New net to be devoted to horror programming

In an unexpected move, NBC Universal plans to roll out a new digital cable network devoted to horror-themed programming.

Dubbed Chiller, cabler will launch March 1 and initially be seen in 12 million homes via a carriage deal with DirecTV. Channel also will be offered on DirecTV’s new tier of 100 HD channels slated to roll out later this year.

NBC U has already started pitching other cable operators on the channel and is hoping to land carriage agreement on other systems.

Jeff Gaspin, NBC U prexy of cable entertainment, digital content and cross-network strategy, will announce the network today at the TV Critics Assn. winter press tour in Pasadena. Dan Harrison, senior VP of emerging networks for NBC U Cable Entertainment, will be in charge of the channel.

Chiller will take advantage of NBC U’s deep reservoir of horror-related TV shows (“Alfred Hitchcock Presents”) and films (“The Shining,” “Psycho”), many of them from the old MCA library. But Gaspin said the cabler also has acquired programming from other congloms, including 20th Century Fox TV, Sony, Warner Bros. TV and Lionsgate.

“We’ve gone beyond our library and licensed content from all the major players,” Gaspin said.

Other programming assets include “Twin Peaks,” “Tales From the Crypt,” “Freddy’s Nightmares” and “Friday the 13th: The Series.”

Chiller will be targeted at both men and women 18-34.

While Chiller is the first cable channel dedicated to the horror genre, it’s got some competition in the form of FearNet. That’s the video-on-demand/Web site partnership among Comcast, Lionsgate and Sony.

Gaspin said he doesn’t consider a VOD/Web site to be “in competition” with Chiller, though he said there’s “a chance they will become competitive” if Comcast decides to add a linear FearNet cable channel.

NBC U first explored the idea of an all-horror channel more than a year ago but opted instead to launch Sleuth, a cabler focused on crime programming. Nonetheless, a complete business model was drawn up, and NBC U even locked up the rights to the Chiller name.

Chiller was put on the back burner until just a couple months ago, however. That’s when NBC U became aware of DirecTV’s desire to add more HD channels to its lineup.

“Just launching this as an HD channel didn’t make much economic sense for us,” Gaspin said. NBC U was able to strike a deal with DirecTV to put Chiller on a regular programming tier, however, giving NBC the incentive to greenlight the channel.

“We’d done all the legwork already, so it wasn’t difficult to ramp this one up,” he added.

Chiller will follow the same basic business model as Sleuth, initially relying on library product before slowly adding some original content. Indeed, less than two years after launch, Sleuth is already profitable — and Gaspin expects Chiller to start making money for the Peacock in two years or less.

“While everyone’s talking about the new media and all these other platforms, the fact that we’ve been able to sneak in a couple of these emerging networks is impressive,” Gaspin said. “Our distribution team gets a ton of credit for making these kinds of deals. They represent a significant source of revenue” for NBC U.

In addition to overseeing Chiller on a day-to-day basis, Harrison also oversees Sleuth and Universal HD.

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