As of Feb. 1, the Bravo arts TV network will begin a unique 18-month partnership with Texaco to underwrite 20% of its performing arts presentations--a first for a for-profit cable television operation.
At simultaneous press conferences in New York and Los Angeles on Thursday, Bravo executives said there will be room for even more corporate sponsorships in the future for the 12-year-old cable TV channel. Laurie Giddins, Bravo marketing vice president, told television critics gathered in Marina del Rey for their annual winter convention that up to 10 more regular programming sponsorships will be made available to corporate underwriters.
By seeking such sponsors, Bravo--which specializes in high-brow movie classics, stage and music performances and cultural documentaries--will go head-to-head with the Public Broadcasting Service in competition for corporate underwriting dollars.
For the moment, PBS is not worried.
"We've had corporate sponsorships on public television for close to as long as there has been public broadcasting," Mike Soper, PBS senior vice president for development, told The Times.
Bravo, available free of premium payment on most cable television systems, does not air commercials. According to Giddins, only about 4% of the channel's 7 million potential viewers have to pay extra to receive Bravo and that percentage will probably drop to zero as the company moves to persuade all of the nation's cable systems to carry the channel as part of their basic cable package.
Josh Sapen, Bravo president, and William K. Tell Jr., Texaco senior vice president, made the announcement at Carnegie Hall while Texaco corporate communications chief Peter Dowd joined Giddins in Los Angeles to detail his company's involvement in the new programming, dubbed "Texaco Performing Arts Showcase." It will feature symphonies, opera, ballet and theater.
"Our history of support at Texaco has been in making extraordinary live performances of the arts available to a broad audience," Dowd said, pointing to 50 years of underwriting both on radio and television. The oil company has sponsored performing arts dating back to its long-running underwriting of radio broadcasts of the New York Metropolitan Opera performances during the Great Depression. More recently, Dowd pointed to the company's underwriting of the PBS "Great Performances" series--a sponsorship that he said will not end with its new commitment to Bravo.
Dowd would not reveal the size of Texaco's Bravo commitment. To do so might discourage other companies from making their own commitments to the cable channel, he said.
The practice of seeking corporate underwriting for programming (wherein companies fund a show in exchange for on-air credit but not actual ads) was pioneered by PBS nearly 20 years ago.
Even with the joint Texaco-Bravo announcement, PBS' Soper sees no potential loss of underwriting, either from Texaco or other corporate sponsors.
"I just don't see it," he said. "I think that corporations sponsor programs on public television and become involved, remaining year after year, for very special reasons. It's not so they can attract a certain number of viewer eyeballs. It's because they want to be associated with the institution (PBS)."