Cable channels are still limited WISH List

April 11, 1994|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun Staff Writer

You got cable TV? You want choice?

How about a station devoted to uncut, uninterrupted movies from the 1920s through the '70s? How about a network that shows nothing but cartoons? How about a channel featuring nothing but science fiction, from "Lost in Space" to "Star Trek" and a Boris Karloff film festival? How about dawn-to-dusk travel information?

How about moving somewhere else?

Unless you have a satellite dish, chances are you don't get all the cable channels you could. In the Baltimore area, no single cable system offers packages that include American Movie Classics, the Cartoon Network, the Sci-Fi Channel and the Travel Channel -- not to mention Bravo, E!, Comedy Central, Nostalgia Television and a passel of "superstations," such as Ted Turner's Atlanta-based WTBS, once local channels that are now carried to television sets throughout the country.

In fact, it would take 91 channels to carry all the networks listed by the National Cable TV Association -- not to mention 17 more that are planning to start broadcasting within the next year, or local stations such as WBAL, WMAR, WJZ and WBFF.

The most channels any Baltimore-area cable system offers is 77. That means there are a bunch of channels out there that people can't get but wish they could.

Bill Fischer, who just moved to Linthicum from Boston, says his homesickness could be alleviated somewhat if only his cable company carried Beantown's WSBK. But he's happy to hear North Arundel Cable TV is picking up the Sci-Fi Channel.

Chip Clevenger, from Glen Burnie, would like to see the Cartoon Network added -- although he acknowledges his son Dustin, 9, would probably watch it more than he.

Bill Ruiz, of Essex, would like to see WGN out of Chicago, so he could watch Cubs games. And Carol Gralia, who lives in Columbia, isn't sure about specifics but would love to see "more good, old, classic movies." Sounds like a natural for American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Movies.

Holding back

What's a cable company to do? Although most local cable operators plan to expand at some point, they say they are held back by uncertainty over impending government regulations and the need to update their systems -- which may have been top-of-the-line 10 or 12 years ago -- with more advanced technology.

With only limited capacity at present, cable companies have to be selective.

"We do try to be responsive to the demands and the requests of the customers," says David Daniels, the state marketing manager for TCI East, parent company of United Artists Cable. United Artists' most-requested additions are the Sci-Fi Channel, the Cartoon Network and ESPN2.

Area cable operators agreed that suggestions from their customers -- many received during annual surveys -- are the largest single factor in deciding what channels they carry. Paul Janson, director of marketing and programming for North Arundel Cable TV, says demand for the Sci-Fi Channel was "way ahead of everybody," followed by Country Music Television, E!, Court TV and Turner Classic Movies -- an AMC clone that will be made available to cable companies beginning next month.

But public opinion isn't always the deciding factor. David Nevins, spokesman for Comcast Cable, says officials there try to vary their existing mix of programming -- in Baltimore and Howard counties, for instance, the company recently added Univision, a Spanish-language network.

Niche audiences

"Cable is about appealing to niche audiences," Mr. Nevins says. "You don't necessarily add the channel that most people want to watch."

Some cable channels are available throughout the Baltimore area. Those include WTBS, CNN, MTV, ESPN sports, the USA Network, Nickelodeon, Turner Network Television, Black Entertainment Television (except in Carroll County) and others.

Beyond that, the offerings vary.

United Artists Cable of Baltimore offers the most extensive variety of programming in the metropolitan area. For $22.45 a month, its 77 channels include both AMC and the Travel Channel, plus the 90's Channel (a forum for documentaries and independent films addressing social and political issues), The Box (a pay-per-view version of MTV), Encore (movies from the '60s, '70s and '80s, plus reruns of David Lynch's Twin Peaks), E! (whose programming includes reruns of Late Night With David Letterman) and Nostalgia Television.

Among other area cable companies:

* Comcast of Baltimore County offers 45 channels, including Nostalgia Television, E!, the Sci-Fi Channel and WWOR.

* Comcast of Harford County offers 53 channels, including Nostalgia Television, the Cartoon Network, American Movie Classics, E! and Country Music Television.

* Comcast of Howard County offers 45 channels, including Nostalgia Television and WWOR.

* North Arundel Cable and Jones Intercable, both of which serve northern Anne Arundel County, offer 54 channels each. Both offer Comedy Central, American Movie Classics, WWOR and WGN. As of May 1, North Arundel will be offering the Sci-Fi Channel (dropping WWOR to make room).

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