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DirecTV tunes out Trio, network in limbo

Saturday, January 1, 2005

The future of the artsy Trio channel became increasingly grim Saturday as satellite TV giant DirecTV dropped the fledgling network from its national channel lineup.

When DirectTV programmers threw the off switch at 6 a.m. eastern standard time Jan. 1, Trio, an NBC Universal-owned cable television channel, lost two-thirds of its 20 million household subscribers. The channel’s remaining 8 million subscribers may not give it enough audience to ensure its survival, according to some experts.

The network received critical acclaim for a quirky lineup that includes the series, Brilliant But Cancelled, which took American broadcast networks, including parent NBC, to task for cancelling quality programs.

Trio originally got its start in the 1980s as a Canadian cable channel owned by the CBC. Its original slate was described as “a general entertainment channel that features the most successful contemporary dramas, documentaries and films from Canada, the UK and Australia. For the last six years, TRIO has been the largest exporter of Canadian TV programs to the US with over 3,000 hours of content,” according to CBC press releases.

The channel’s Canadian roots were cut in 2000 when media mogul Barry Diller snapped up Trio and sister channel News World International from the CBC and partner Power Corp. for $155 million in cash. Diller saw the channel as a cheap consolation prize after he was outbid by NBC for the Bravo cable network earlier that year. Within months, Diller rebranded Trio, dumped the Canadian dramas and geared it more toward edgier pop culture programming.

Over the next couple of years, Trio changed hands twice. First to Vivendi Universal, then to NBC in a package deal that landed the American TV network a movie studio and the USA and SCI FI cable networks. Trio was seen as more of an afterthought at the time.

In a hint of what may be the fate of the channel, NBC Universal moved most of Trio’s executive and programming staff over to Bravo, a now-sibling network, which is seen in 80 million U.S. homes. Some experts predict that Trio will eventually be folded with its more successful programming ported over to Bravo.

“Trio was a refreshing oasis on the dial, with a quirky pop-culture attitude that showed in its programming. Trio leaving is kind of like having a witty friend move out of town,” Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, MSNBC television critic said in her weekly column. “It’ll be missed.”

NBC Universal has not commented publicly on the long-term future or specific plans for Trio channel besides to say it was committed to programming the network for current subscribers as the conglomerate re-evaluates its digital cable strategy.

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