November 3, 2005

NBC ready for crime-time with Sleuth channel

By Andrew Wallenstein

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - NBC Universal is booking
a new crime-themed cable channel with Time Warner Cable, the
company said Wednesday.

Sleuth is launching January 1 in 5 million homes with a
full docket of series and movies from the Universal library
acquired in the company's 2004 merger, including "Miami Vice,"
"The A-Team" and "Scarface." Rumors had been swirling since the
merger that NBC Universal was developing a channel in the crime
or horror genres.

"We have one of the best crime and mystery movie and TV
libraries," NBC Universal Cable president David Zaslav said.
"We have great content at a low cost to us."

One prominent brand missing from Sleuth: "Law & Order."
While getting control of executive producer Dick Wolf's trio of
primetime series helped drive the NBC Universal merger, all
three already have various cable windows.

Even if they were available, they would be prohibitively
expensive to put on such a small channel, NBC Universal Cable
Entertainment president Jeff Gaspin noted. "It wouldn't make
sense to put the properties on the service; it only has 5
million subscribers," he said.

Sleuth will launch in three different formats, first as a
standard-definition linear channel. A high-definition version
will launch later in 2006 as will a robust video-on-demand
collection offering 20 hours per month. The three formats will
cross-promote one another along with other networks in the NBC
Universal stable, including Sci Fi Channel, Bravo and Trio.

Sleuth is an outgrowth of the carriage deal NBC Universal
signed with Time Warner last month.

The creation of a new advertising-supported channel makes
good on NBC Universal's intent to monetize the Universal
library. But it also comes as something of a surprise given
that cable operators have demonstrated a declining interest in
linear services, leaning more toward pure VOD plays. NBC
Universal already has struggled with distribution for Trio,
which saw its distribution halved when DirecTV yanked it last

Zaslav didn't rule out eventually adding original
programing to Sleuth but not until there's significant
distribution growth. Sources indicated the channel is shooting
for 30 million homes by 2007.

Zaslav doesn't believe that Sleuth will cannibalize home
video sales of programing made available on the channel. "The
old way of thinking is, you use content in more than one place,
it undermines the value," he said.

Sleuth eventually could be in a position to add the
"Special Victims Unit" and "Criminal Intent" editions of "Law &
Order" if it saw fit to redraft the license agreement so that
Bravo and USA Network, which air the pair, share them with
Sleuth. TNT currently airs the original "Law & Order."

Sleuth isn't the only channel of its kind. Earlier this
year, A&E Networks -- of which NBC Universal owns 25% --
announced the launch of a new digital channel, Crime &
Investigation Network, in February.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter