Networks land off-net strip rights to NBC hit

Male-centric cablers G4 and Mojo are no longer holding out for “Heroes.”

The networks have scored the coup of their young lives, landing the off-net strip rights to NBC’s “Heroes,” starting in 2010, as well as same-week repurposing rights beginning later this month.

The sci-fi hit would seem a natural for NBC Universal cabler Sci-Fi Channel, but G4 aggressively went after the package (bringing along HD cousin Mojo, which is partly owned by G4 parent Comcast). As part of the deal, G4 will also produce and run a half-hour live “Heroes” wrap show immediately following its Saturday night repurposed run.

“This is a seminal moment for us,” said G4 president Neal Tiles. “We’ve been trying to find the right fit as we search for these off-net runs, and I can’t imagine a more perfect fit than ‘Heroes’… It’s something that puts us into the category of being a serious player for product that we believe in.”

The off-net run includes exclusive cable rights to stream the “Heroes” episodes on G4′s website; G4 will also gain free video-on-demand rights to “Heroes” starting in 2010.

It’s believed G4 and Mojo scored “Heroes” for the relative bargain of $300,000 an episode — partly because reruns of serialized shows rarely pull in huge numbers of viewers. Insiders said several major buyers, including TNT, A&E, Spike and Sci Fi (which repurposed season one of “Heroes”) ultimately passed on the show.

But the ratings bar is higher for the big general-entertainment cable networks. G4 and Mojo, on the other hand, don’t need to harvest millions of viewers for the investment to be successful. The likelihood is that G4 paid the lion’s share of the license fee, as it reaches 64.7 million homes (and likely many more by 2010) vs. fewer than 10 million for Mojo.

“Serialization is a tough nut to crack,” agreed Frances Manfredi, NBC U Domestic TV Distribution’s senior VP and general sales manager for cable and nontheatrical sales. “The beauty of this deal is, it’s a perfectly branded show for these networks. And part of what we loved about this deal is that it brings new players into the market.”

Tiles noted that G4 has already heavily covered the “Heroes” phenomenon, especially on the channel’s signature daily series “Attack of the Show.” “Heroes” creator Tim Kring has appeared on “AOTS” several times, and the show has already been the topic of several discussions.

“We have the ability to embrace the franchise and not just run it but also be a marketing platform for NBC as it’s going through its first run,” Tiles said.

“Heroes” will arrive on G4 and Mojo the weekend of Oct. 27-28, when the cablers air all-day marathons of the show’s first season. G4 is also set to run a mini-marathon of the first six segs of its second season on Saturday, Nov. 3, from 5-11 p.m.

After that, G4 will air the repeat of that week’s NBC “Heroes” episode on Saturdays at 10 p.m. The half-hour live “Heroes” wrap-up show will follow at 11.

“The Post Show,” which bows Nov. 3, was pitched by G4 to NBC U, which gave its blessing to use clips and the “Heroes” title. The half-hour will also repeat Sundays at 6 p.m.

“It’s a great promotional platform for us,” Manfredi said. “They were very aggressive about wanting it to accompany the repurposed episode and find a way to expand that show for their viewers.”

“AOTS” host Kevin Pereira and contributor Blair Butler will host “The Post Show,” which will include guests, live polling, webcam interviews with fans and other interactive elements.

“It’s meant to be a place for viewers and fans of the show to come afterward to talk about ‘Heroes’ and their theories,” Tiles said. “We’ll be doing a half-hour commercial for ‘Heroes’ every week. We’ll treat it with reverence and celebrate it. That’s what we bring to the table.”

As for the issue of serialized shows and their repeatability, G4 will likely create a special “2.0″ version of “Heroes” that includes DVD-style extras that run on the screen and online.

The channel has already produced “2.0″ versions of off-net fare such as “Star Trek” and “Cops.”

The “Heroes” deal reps the latest big programming acquisition coming out of the Comcast nets; G4 sib E! recently shelled out $40 million to acquire a movie package that included “Knocked Up” and “Evan Almighty.”

“Comcast is absolutely serious about content,” Tiles said.

As for Mojo, prexy-CEO Rob Jacobson said the show was “like a perfect marriage.”

“It reaches a lot of men 18-34, and that’s our target demo,” he said. “It will also drive a lot of traffic to our new series.”

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