Ex-AMCer Backs Horror Effort

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Former AMC Networks president Kate McEnroe is trying to get a horror channel launched this year.

The cable veteran is working in an executive capacity for Lionsgate, the independent studio that’s produced such theatrical fright fests as Saw and Hostel.

Her task: Build a channel, whose name has not yet been publicly disclosed, with versions of its scary content also available over the Internet, on cell phones and other mobile devices and in programs that can be recalled on demand over TV networks, according to one industry executive familiar with Lionsgate’s plans.

The New York Post first reported that Lionsgate was attempting to get a horror network off the ground. And last week, DirecTV Inc. confirmed that it has been in talks with the movie studio about the horror network.

“We’ve been speaking with them as they’ve been developing the channel and we’re following their progress on this initiative,” DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer said.

Lionsgate has also talked to Comcast Corp. about its horror channel, as well as a third unidentified potential partner, the executive said. Comcast declined to comment on Lionsgate last week.

McEnroe’s effort to get a horror-film programming service up and running for Lionsgate in a sense pits her directly against her former employer, AMC parent Rainbow Media Holdings Inc.

Rainbow has a package of satellite-delivered HD services, Voom HD, that includes a network called Monsters HD. Last year EchoStar Communications Corp. purchased Rainbow’s Voom satellite and acquired a 25% stake in its HDTV networks. EchoStar’s Dish Network is now carrying Voom HD, including the monster channel.

Greg Moyer, general manager of Voom HD Networks, pointed out that the horror genre has performed well on cable, as evidenced by the popularity of AMC’s decade-old “Monsterfest” stunt, which features horror movies.

“There’s plenty of evidence from the television and the movie industry that this [the horror genre] is one of the stellar and perpetual performers,” Moyer said. “I’m not surprised that others are coming into the space, or would like to.”

But according to Moyer, Monsters HD has already “curated the best lineup of horror movies that’s ever existed,” iconic horror films from the 1930s to the present. He also pointed out that Monsters HD has even licensed some films from Lionsgate, “whose work we greatly respect.”

McEnroe was one of 14 executives who were let go by Rainbow’s parent, Cablevision Systems Corp., in the midst of an accounting probe in June 2003.

During her Rainbow tenure, McEnroe successfully launched several cable networks, including AMC. But starting up a traditional channel in today’s environment is extremely difficult, with some cable operators preferring to introduce new programming services on their video-on-demand platforms instead.

Lionsgate couldn’t be reached for comment last week on the proposed horror network.

However, last February, Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer named McEnroe to lead the company’s digital distribution and on-demand efforts. Last week, the studio identified McEnroe as its “television-channel consultant.”

The studio, whose corporate name is Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., is trying to capitalize on the box-office success of its serial killer Saw franchise and now torture flick Hostel, which opened this month No. 1 in the box office, taking in $20 million its first week, several analysts said.

Lionsgate is trying to time the launch of its horror channel for June 6 this year — a date of 666, the number of Satan.

The company has a library of 1,000 horror films, such as cult hits The Devil’s Rejects, to use as content for a horror channel.

The library is attractive because it includes contemporary horror movies that appeal to youthful viewers.

“Obviously, there is an audience for this, and what makes it appealing from a cable network’s perspective is that it is a young male demo,” said Tom Eagan, an Oppenheimer & Co. analyst who follows Lionsgate.