`Monitor' Enters World of Cable Starting May 1, the Monitor Channel Brings In-Depth Journalism to Cable Television 24 Hours a Day, Seven Days a Week

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CHANNEL-SURF through the offerings on any cable system, and it's easy to see that the concept behind most cable channels can be expressed in one, maybe two words. Sports. Movies. Music videos. News.

When The Monitor Channel premieres next Wednesday, May 1, some viewers will find an alternative to the Cable News Network, the institution that has long dominated the "news" niche in the cable industry.

For cable system programming executives, the people who decide what to show on cable systems, the question of the moment is whether "Monitor," the industry's shorthand for the channel, "can ... create enough of a differential between themselves and CNN," says Dennis McAlpine, a media and entertainment analyst at the investment bank Barclays de Zoete Wedd.

Mr. McAlpine says the channel's origins already make it "a little unique," but says Monitor hasn't settled the identity question yet. Dave Andersen, vice president for public affairs at Cox Cable Communications, one the country's 10-largest cable system operators, says Monitor has "probably not" distinguished itself from CNN so far. But he adds: "We do like what we see."

John H. Hoagland, Jr., chairman and chief executive of Monitor Television Inc., says he realizes that cable system operators will need some time to value the identity of The Monitor Channel. In a speech at a cable industry convention earlier this month, Mr. Hoagland said, "(T)he reality of news publishing is that trust is earned and won over time, through the test of use by a public that is able to discern comparative access, tone, depth, liveliness, interest and reliability among competing news sources."

Mr. Andersen at Cox Cable says another challenge for Monitor will be what the industry calls the "capacity crunch." The average cable system in the United States offers 36 channels for the monthly "basic programming" fee, and there are 60 national and 30 regional networks, as well as local programming, competing for the available space, according to the National Cable Television Association.

The Monitor Channel will soon be joined by several other new offerings including Courtroom Television Network, which will cablecast live coverage of trials around the country, and the Sci-Fi Channel. …

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