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CLASSICAL TV EYES WORLD'S WEALTHIEST VIEWERS

A lineup of new television channels is targeting fans of classical music who, though far from the free-spending teen-agers beloved by advertisers, are some of the wealthiest viewers in the world.

The latest into the "up-market" market place is the Opera Channel of Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli and British television presenter David Frost.

They originally planned to broadcast just six hours a day across Europe, but new technological advances on high-quality telephone lines have widened the channel's global ambitions.

"It is the icing on the cake," Michael Whitehouse, one of the directors of the new channel, said on Wednesday.

"We can broadcast to a much larger media base which includes not only Europe but also the United States and other parts of the globe -- basically to anyone who has an Internet connection," he told the daily trade magazine Midem 2000 at the annual Midem record industry forum.

In Europe, the Opera Channel has set a target of 1.5 million viewers, most of them in the $4,000 per month income bracket, about twice the average for most Europeans.

Capital is now being raised for the channel, which is due to launch in July. Its backers are targeting advertisers willing to pay $1 million to be exclusive sponsor for one night a week.

Affluence abounds

Michael Fuehr, managing director of the 24-hour German pay outlet Classica Germany, told the magazine: "Our subscribers are mainly very wealthy people who want to see first-class programming."

Classica Germany has more than 2,000 hours of programming in its library, including 180 operas.

Though public broadcasting stations once spearheaded classical the programming shown on the new channels, they now have so few hours devoted to the music they are no longer major competitors.

"I regret to say that public television used to be a competitor but, with fewer and fewer windows dedicated to classical music, it can no longer be considered our rival," said Raffaele Cadorna of the Italian channel D Classica.

Industry experts also warned that the production line could dry up if governments stop funding public broadcasters.

"Their budgets are being slashed and, as a result, they are beginning to cut back on the high-quality programming they have been making for decades," warned Reiner Moritz of RM Associates in London.

Meanwhile today's opera stars are enthusiastically embracing new technology. Montserrat Caballe and Jessye Norman have signed up with Online Classics and Luciano Pavarotti has staged concerts live on the Internet for fans to pick up around the world with just a click of the mouse.

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