NBCU Eyes Horror, Crime Nets


On the back of its film and TV libraries, NBC Universal Cable is exploring the launch of a horror network and a crime channel.

The two potential networks wouldn’t be much of a stretch for NBC Universal, parent of Sci Fi Channel, which has some horror fare, and USA Network, whose forte is crime and detective-oriented drama.

In addition, last year’s merger of NBC and Vivendi Universal Entertainment created a vast vault of movies and TV shows for the new combined media conglomerate, NBC Universal. Officials at the giant Peacock programmer have been investigating ways to leverage that deep well of content, which ranges from movies like The Mummy, Jurassic Park and their sequels to shows such as Columbo and The Rockford Files.

“When we did the Universal deal, they have a great TV and movie library, and we’ve been looking at different things,” said NBC Universal Cable president David Zaslav. “One of the ones that we’ve been looking at hard is horror.”

Horror and crime are two “of many concepts” NBC Universal Cable is looking at, according to a company spokeswoman.

Once before, USA got cold feet about creating a crime channel.

Four years ago, it announced plans to create a diginet called Crime, to be spearheaded by Cops creator John Langley. The programmer shelved it roughly a year later.

But NBC is “a company that’s absolutely the synergists of all synergist,” said Tim Brooks, Lifetime Television’s executive vice president of research and a veteran of USA and Sci Fi Channel. “Boy, do they look at ways to leverage one property with another. The Universal library is perfectly fertile ground for this idea to take root again.”

In an environment in which it’s tough to launch a linear network, two independent horror services — Horror Net and Fangoria TV — are already trying to gain traction.

Another potential entrant in the horror genre is Monsters HD, part of Voom, the satellite-delivered HDTV service that will go black April 30.

Cablevision Systems Corp. has said it will analyze whether to offer the 21 networks that were part of the Voom platform, including Monsters HD, to distributors through its Rainbow Media Holdings unit.

“We continue to look at the potential options for all the channels,” a Rainbow spokeswoman said last week.

Word of NBC Universal Cable’s potential forays into both horror and crime surfaced last week, when the programmer and Verizon Communications Inc. announced a broad carriage deal for the telco’s video service, FiOS TV.

As part of that agreement, Verizon is not only going to carry all of NBC Universal’s existing cable networks, including Sci Fi Channel and USA, but has also made a commitment to carry two new cable networks from the programmer.

“As we develop a channel or two over the next couple of months, if we launch it, it will become part of this deal,” Zaslav said.

Over the years, as a result of the mergers with both Vivendi and NBC, NBC Universal Cable has access to a large library of movies and TV episodes created by in-house operations such as Universal Pictures, the house of horror flicks.

The roster on the TV side includes not only Columbo and The Rockford Files, but also shows such as Magnum P.I., Dragnet, Miami Vice and Murder, She Wrote. NBC Universal also produces Monk, Law & Order and its spinoffs, and Crossing Jordan.

On the movie side, in addition to The Mummy, Universal Pictures’ releases have included fare like Hulk and Van Helsing.

“The logical thing for NBC to do is a studio-based channel,” said one cable-industry veteran.

It wouldn’t be a novel strategy. A consortium led by Sony Corp., and including Comcast Corp., recently completed its acquisition of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. One prediction was that Comcast would launch a cable network based on MGM’s film library.

Sci Fi Channel’s schedule already includes some horror-oriented shows.

“We had a lot of discussions when I was there about how much horror should be on Sci Fi [Channel],” Brooks said. “It turns out that sci-fi fans like horror. There tends to a great deal of overlap between those two areas. …

“Horror when it gets to be spooky, gory, as opposed to scientific and futuristic, starts to diverge. But they’re both largely male audiences and they both have a lot of violence in them, generally. The true sci-fi fans tend to be more into technology and the wonder of it all.”

Several years ago, Viacom Inc. chairman and CEO Sumner Redstone expressed an interest in creating a science-fiction network, exploiting his company’s library, which includes the Star Trek franchise. Now, some of those show air on Viacom’s Spike TV.