Move will result in at least five properties

Sci Fi Channel and Richard Branson’s Virgin Comics have pacted on a joint venture to create comic book titles that will be turned into a wide range of multiplatform properties, from TV shows to feature films.

Initiative, dubbed Sci Fi/Virgin Comics, will result in at least five comic book properties. Virgin will handle publishing, while Sci Fi and parent NBC Universal will have first look at all extensions, including online, film, videogames and TV.

Fifty-fifty partnership, announced Saturday at ComicCon New York, will yield its first titles later this year.

Dave Howe, Sci Fi’s exec VP and G.M., said the deal is designed, in part, to help the network develop new TV properties more cost-effectively.

“It’s a smart way for us to short circuit the development process without spending $6 million on a pilot,” he said, noting that publishing five installments of a comic gives the cabler the means to “road test characters and concepts.”

All titles “will be able to live outside the world of comics from the get-go.”

Perhaps just as importantly, deal gets Sci Fi actively involved in a new business — namely, comic publishing.

“We’ve got to stop thinking like a TV brand,” he said. “We want to figure out what new businesses we can be in. Sci Fi has the potential to own a whole category, the way MTV owns music or ESPN owns sports.”

Deal also broadens Sci Fi’s rapidly growing international business, since Sci Fi/Virgin Comics will be distributed all over the world.

Partnership will be managed by an eight-member editorial board, with an equal number of reps from Sci Fi and Virgin.

Sharad Devarajan is the publisher and CEO of Virgin Comics, which was launched in late 2005 by Branson, Deepak Chopra, Shekhar Kapur and Gotham Entertainment Group.

Howe said the first five titles will come from a mix of well-known TV and movie scribes, as well as more up and coming tal-ent.

“Deepak has said he’s keen to create one of the titles” as well, Howe added.

Branson said the goal of the venture is “to create stories that will inspire a new generation of thinkers and dreamers throughout the world.”

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