Can Crime Pay on TV?

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Everybodyloves a good
mystery.

That’s the underpinning of Henry
Schleiff ’s latest endeavor to build
a cable programming brand from
the ground up.

Schleiff, a veteran cable programmer
and tireless promoter,
is laying down the law at Discovery
Communications-owned ID:
Investigation Discovery, where
he’s successfully mixing original
crime-oriented programming
with investigative news fare into
a network that’s off to a strong ratings
start in 2010.

If anyone can make crime pay
on cable, Schleiff should be up
for the job. Before joining Discovery,
he was CEO of Court TV,
which showed primarily courtroom
proceedings but, since its
2006 acquisition by Time Warner
Inc., has slowly morphed into reality-
focused TruTV.

ID, the former Discovery
Times Channel, features programming
ranging from dramatic
stories of women marrying
convicted felons (Prison Wives) to
missing persons stories (Disappeared)
to often-outrageous stories
of failed criminals (I Almost
Got Away With It)
. The 54-million-
subscriber digital network
has posted a 53% increase in total
primetime audience year-todate,
as viewers — particularly
advertiser-desirable women 25
to 54 — tune in and remain fixated
on the channel.

ID hopes to continue the momentum
in April by adding the
library of CBS’s franchise newsmagazine
60 Minutes to a lineup
that already includes off-network
news acquisitions like CBS’s 48
Hours
and its own investigative
news series, On the Case With
Paula Zahn
.

Schleiff said the network is on
an upward performance trajectory
due to the popularity of the
network’s “scripted reality” programming
that he believes puts
the two-year-old channel on the
same field as some of the toprated
basic networks.

“When you start to see the
growth we’re seeing in total viewers,
demographic ratings and key
engagement criteria for national
spot advertisers, where we have
a leading position or a top-10 position,
I think that’s a great statement
for a network that’s two
years old,” he said. “The brand
matches the competitive position
that I thought we would be in in
10 years — it’s a testament to the
hunger and the audience looking
for something distinctive.”

Gary Lico, CEO of cable-network
research firm CableU.tv,
said that Schleiff , through ID, is
successfully tapping into the continued
popularity of the crimeand-
investigation genre that
Court TV cultivated in primetime
during the early and mid 2000s.
That was when such shows as Forensic
Files
helped inspire successful
scripted crime shows,
such as CBS’s popular CSI franchise.

“There is always a place for
crime programming,” he said.
“Investigation content is fascinating
and it attracts a very saleable
female audience of demographics
and will remain viable as long as
there is real crime and real storytellers.”

The network’s focus on originally-
produced crime and investigative
programming — 65%
of the network’s lineup — has
helped define the brand, which
only two years ago was in flux under
the Discovery Times partnership
between Discovery and The
New York Times
. While Discovery
Times featured high-profile talent
such as former ABC Nightline host
Ted Koppel, it never found its audience
or voice.

In 2006, Discovery bought out
the Times’ share in the network
and re-branded it as ID.

“That channel, before it was
Investigation Discovery, was a
whole lot of different things,” Lico
said. “Now, with Investigative
Discovery as a home for investigation
and crime, it is a much more
smart and focused channel.”

Schleiff, who came on board
this past August after a twoyear
stint as CEO of Crown Media
Holdings-owned Hallmark
Channel, immediately saw similarities
between the network
and Court TV in relation to the
crime-and-investigation genre.
In fact, Schleiff — who left Court
TV in 2006, prior to Time Warner’s
acquisition and subsequent
rebranding as TruTV — describes
ID as “Court TV 3.0.” The difference
between the two is that ID
can wrap its full 24-hour lineup
around the genre, while Court TV
had to defer to actual live court
coverage during the daytime
hours, he said.

“At Court TV, we were really a
key player in taking that whole
concept of science and the incredible
tenacity of research and
work that goes into resolving a
crime,” he said. “At ID, we’ve taken
what I thought was the best of
Court TV and built our primetime
and overall schedule around that very essence. Every one of our
stories has at its heart a search
for the truth.”

So far, the network has been
able to arrest a few viewers and
keep them engaged with the
channel. ID has averaged 369,000
viewers in primetime thus far in
2010, up from 233,000 viewers
during the same period last year.

The network’s average tune-in
duration, according to ID, is an
industry-high 34 minutes, which
bodes well for the network’s appeal
to advertisers going into the
upfront season.

ID will off er several new shows
as part of its upfront, including
Paradise Lost, which tells tales of
trips abroad that ended in mystery;
Unusual Suspects, which
showcases some of the most notable
and challenging investigations
in contemporary law enforcement;
Paperback Mysteries, which takes
viewers inside the minds of America’s
most popular crime novelists
and explores the crossover from
fact to fiction; and Who The Bleep
Did I Marry?
, which focuses on
people who live double lives unbeknownst
to their spouses.

The network will also tap the
42-year library of CBS’s 60 Minutes
and look to update some of
the show’s more intriguing investigative
reports. The show, 60
Minutes on ID,
will be hosted by
60 Minutes correspondent Scott
Pelley.

“What people are really interested
in is updates to those pieces,
so that’s what we’re working
on now,” he said.

Despite the ratings gains, the
network still faces an uphill distribution
battle. The service has
deals with all the major cable
and satellite companies, yet as a
pure digital-network play is in a
little more than half of all cable
households. Schleiff believes ID
will add subscribers as digitalcable
penetration increases.

“As digital penetration plays
out with the larger players, we
will grow with them,” he said.
“They see the value of [ID] helping
their subscribers to understand
the value of their digital box.”

Schleiff said the network has
the blessing of parent Discovery
Communications, which is putting
investment dollars on both
the marketing and programming
sides of the business, although he
would not reveal specifics.

SNL Kagan estimates place ID’s
programming expenses for 2010
at $34 million, up from $28 million
last year, and projects the
network’s overall revenues to hit
$116 million this year, up from
$100 million in 2009.

Schleiff added he’s not worried
that ID will be placed on Discovery’s
back burner next year with
the launch of two very high-profile networks in OWN: The Oprah
Winfrey Network and The Hub,
Discovery’s kids-targeted joint
venture with toymaker Hasbro.

“I couldn’t be happier to have
them in the family,” Schleiff said.
“I think it’s an opportunity for copromotion,
and the more people
hear of the quality programming
that will be on both of those networks,
the more we share in the
patina of that quality. Indirectly,
I think, we benefit — it’s a huge
plus for ID.”

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