Segments to begin airing this fall

NBC has signed a nearly

$40 million deal that will keep sudser “Passions” alive via an unusual outlet: DirecTV.

In what ranks as its largest original programming initiative ever, the satellite provider has ordered a full season of original episodes of the soap opera from NBC U TV Studio. Segs will begin airing this fall, after the sudser ends its run on NBC.

There will be some changes, however.

Instead of five days per week, “Passions” will air only four times per week, Monday through Thursday. To accommodate the different business model, show’s budget will be reduced by about one-third to around $700,000 per week.

All of the production costs for “Passions” will be absorbed by DirecTV, whose total commitment over 52 weeks stands at nearly $40 million. Service will offset a chunk of that cost by selling advertising on the show.

NBC U West Coast topper Marc Graboff said the conglom will make “a little bit” of money in the first season of the deal but stands to make more if DirecTV picks up its options on the show.

Peacock will still be able to make coin from Internet components related to “Passions,” as well as any product integration deals it strikes.

However, since DirecTV insisted on complete exclusivity, NBC will no longer make episodes of the sudser available for download via iTunes.

Graboff said NBC U distribution execs were talking to DirecTV about some digital initiatives when the Peacock’s team suggested that the service pick up “Passions.”

“They really sparked to the idea,” Graboff said, adding he thinks there could be other such deals in the future.

“I could see our studio making a nice business” out of packaging exclusive content to providers such as DirecTV or Comcast, he said.

DirecTV has been edging farther into the original content business, airing several firstrun skeins on what it calls the 101. It will begin airing “Passions” this fall on that channel, which is available to all of its 14 million homes.

Snagging “Passions” makes sense for DirecTV, which has found success offering subscribers programming they can’t get elsewhere. Its huge deal with the NFL for its Sunday Ticket package was instrumental in building its sub base.

Now, DirecTV has a product with strong female appeal, albeit to a relatively small audience base of about 2 million. However, if only 25% of the show’s aud ends up subscribing to DirecTV, the deal could pay for itself.

Peacock said earlier this year that it was canceling “Passions” after an eight-year run on the net (Daily Variety, Jan. 15). Execs at the net also have said that, in all likelihood, Sony-produced “Days of Our Lives” won’t be renewed when its deal expires in 2009.

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