Blighty’s UKTV ups the ante

Paybox hits acquisitions trail and boosts prod'n spend

LONDON — Blighty’s second biggest paybox UKTV, owned jointly by the BBC and Flextech, is adjusting its program strategy as it faces increasing competition from free channels run by ITV and Channel 4.

More coin is being ploughed into original production and signs are that the outfit aims to adopt a more aggressive acquisitions policy.

At its first ever schedule launch — UKTV bowed in 1997 — chief operating officer John Keeling unveiled a lineup of shows slanted towards lifestyle and other factual-related fare —and the combo’s first exclusive U.S. purchase, the ABC legal saga, “In Justice,” starring Kyle MacLachlan.

“We are spending about 20% more on original content,” said Keeling, who is bound for the L.A. Screenings.

He added: “UKTV doesn’t have the money to compete with the big terrestrials or Sky for first rights to the more expensive U.S. shows but acquired material, especially movies, is important to us.”

He said deals had recently been inked with Disney and Universal for movie packages to play out on flagship service, UKTV Gold.

The first series of “In Justice” bows on UKTV Gold in July before being repeated on the Disney-owned U.K. digital free-to-air web ABC1 next January.

Gold will also transmit Fox skein “Prison Break,” which it bought jointly with free-to-air terrestrial Five, where show has become a cult success in Blighty.

Other fare unveiled by UKTV, whose offer embraces niche nets specializing in history, style, drama, documentary, gardening and food, included “How To Find a Husband,” “A Life Coach Less Ordinary” and “The Sixties: The Beatles’ Decade”.

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