EchoStar Communications Corp.’s Dish Network last week signed an exclusive agreement with BBC America to air the long-running British Broadcasting Corp. soap EastEnders — which BBCA dropped last September, irritating fans — on a pay-per-view basis.
Starting June 6, the series was to pick up where the last episode left off in September. Dish will broadcast new episodes every week — four on Sundays and four on Mondays — at 9 p.m. ET, then replay them on Thursdays and Fridays in an all-day format.
By showing eight half-hour episodes per week until the eight-month backlog is worked through, Dish calculates that EastEnders fans in the United States should catch up to their U.K. counterparts in about four months.
The long-running serial drama about working-class people in London’s East End, who frequently convene in a pub called The Queen Vic, airs four times per week in Britain.
Dish Network viewers can buy four-episode blocks for $3.95 or buy all the episodes that month for $9.95.
Gregg Stucker, a Dish Network spokesman, said last Thursday, the day the deal was announced, that Dish had already had calls from fans of the show.
This is the first serial drama that Dish has aired on a PPV basis, he said. “We believe Dish Network may be setting a precedent,” he said.
BBCA at one time thought it would offer EastEnders to cable operators as its first foray into subscription VOD. But those plans never materialized, spokesman Matt Marshall said last week.
BBCA does offer several shows via “free” on-demand cable platforms, including Britcoms like Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Keeping Up Appearances and home-design shows like Changing Rooms and House Invaders. In July, two more recent Britcoms, My Hero and Monarch of the Glen, join the on-demand schedule, he said.
When BBCA dropped EastEnders, citing low ratings for weekend marathon sessions, fans organized a protest campaign and generated many sympathetic news articles about their plight.
Adding to the fans’ distress: A key character who’d been missing and presumed dead for 14 years was just about to make his return.
Marshall said network executives promised at the time to try to find another U.S. home for the show, which has a strong following among U.K. expatriates in this country. “I hope they’ll be pleased,” he said.
Last Thursday, one such site, Saveeastenders.com, described the Dish Network move as “a huge win for EastEnders fans everywhere.”