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The Sydney Morning Herald

A festival in your living room

Date: 01/06/1997
Words: 491
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News And Features
Page: 15
WITH the ABC paring away its meagre arts coverage, it can only be good news that Optus Vision last night launched an Australian pay-TV arts channel. Well, almost an arts channel. Ovation currently runs from 6 pm to 10.30 pm on weekdays and from 12.30 pm to 10.30 pm on weekends and the channel's publicist has already been retrenched. But to give Optus Vision credit, at least it has decided to run an arts channel which is more than Foxtel/Galaxy has chosen to do, and certainly more than commercial free-to-air networks.

Leo Schofield, artistic director of the Sydney Festival, says Ovation is a "fantastic thing. Anything that is going out there to proselytise has got to be good," he says. "At least it will give people some alternative to sport." Ovation debuted with a documentary on Mexican muralists, specials on B. B. King and Herbie Hancock, a film about Matisse, the history of Uluru, the Bavarian Symphony playing Haydn's Creation, a modern dance work, a documentary on Ce`zanne and Joan Sutherland singing her farewell appearance in Die Fledermaus at Covent Garden. Michael Lynch, general manager of the Australia Council, is delighted, even if he isn't a subscriber - yet. "This is a positive step in reaching a broader audience," he says. "There seems to be plenty of room on television for bus crashes and plane crashes and people doing home renovations but not, apparently, for the arts." Lynch says arts on television plays an important role in developing an audience, particularly a younger audience. He also believes it will show potential artists that there are possibilities beyond rock music and that there are role models for writers, dancers or multi-media artists. Ovation's general manager, Carey Badcoe, admits most TV networks have found it difficult to justify programming arts programs for a small audience. "That is the good thing about pay television: you can give people what they want," she says. Badcoe says the channel will present dance, opera, theatre, literature, jazz, classical music, design and even fashion, food and wine. Optus plans to expand the channel to 18 hours a day over the next three years. It resolved the problem of where to pitch the channel - high culture, popular culture - by adopting a "festival" model of programming. Badcoe says that, just as an arts festival features everything from opera to popular music, with performers from around the world and local talent, so Ovation will present a diverse cultural experience. It will have only 10 per cent local content, although Badcoe is confident that this will increase as the channel makes its own programs and works with independent producers. Lynch believes one advantage of the hefty overseas content will be that it will give Australian artists a chance to see what their peers around the world do. More than 30 per cent of the material has never been on Australian television. "I'm buying killer material," says Badcoe. "There is stuff from the late-'80s or earlier, if it is good, but most of it is from the last few years." Badcoe says the network is keen to develop bonds with local companies, and has already formed "relationships" with Opera Australia, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Melbourne Theatre Company and the Sydney Dance Company. "It means that stuff will be recorded that people would never have a chance to see otherwise," Badcoe says.

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