Italy becoming Hollywood test pad

Murdoch's Sky Italia among pay TV experiments

ROME — Italy is becoming Hollywood’s laboratory for launching international pay TV channels.

Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia paybox, which has no local rivals, has over the past three years served as a testing turf for the Fox Life and Fox Crime stations, before their international rollouts.

Next month Sky Italia will be the first to beam the Nat Geo Music channel, which will target a more mature demographic than MTV, with a mellow mix of performers including Ben Harper, Peter Gabriel and world musicians Caetano Veloso and Bebel Gilberto.

Fox Channels Italy managing director Diego Londono says the Rome-produced Nat Geo Music Channel will fill an unserved niche, with “a core demographic aged 35-45 looking to find new sounds from around the world, rather than mass-market music.”

Londono and producer David Beale pitched Nat Geo Music to four-year-old Sky Italia, which has 4.2 million subs and has Europe’s fastest subscriber rate, facilitated no doubt by being the only player in a still underdeveloped market. He got an instant greenlight.

“When we came in, Italy was virgin territory,” recounts Londono. “So it basically became the laboratory for Fox to say, ‘OK, here we have a great partner in Sky and we have a market that is ripe to be exploited with a lot of different types of branding,’ ” he says.

The Fox Channels Italy chief calls Italy “a place where we can continue to generate new brands and concepts and export them around the world.”

A key aspect of the Italian TV market is that — given the country’s low birth rate — many viewers tend to be on the older side.

“When we first launched the Fox and Fox Life channels, we were really focused on the 15-40 medium and upper-class demographic,” says Londono.

“But when we launched Fox Crime, we recognized that the crime genre is very wide: it gets the 18-year-old and the 60-year-old.”

Demographics, and an Italo fascination with felons, is why Fox Crime — which features yank skeins “CSI” and “Law & Order,” and local product like docudrama “Delitti” — is now the top performer among the 10 Fox Italy channels on Sky Italia, less than two years after its bow.

Fox Crime has since rolled out in Asia, Spain and other European territories.

Likewise, Fox Life, a femme-targeted concoction of comedies, dramas and soaps, also originated in Rome, bowed in Italy in 2004, and now airs across Europe, Latin America and in Japan.

The plan with Nat Geo Music is to roll out in Turkey and Portugal, right after the channel’s Italo bow on Oct. 15, and subsequently launch in Latin America.

Concurrently, on Oct. 15, the natural history-themed Nat Geo Wild channel, which already airs elsewhere, will debut on Sky Italia.

Meanwhile, looking to further strengthen the Italo-Hollywood connection, Londono and L.A.-based Fox Television Studio topper Emiliano Calemzuk — who headed Fox Channels Italy until April — are seeking U.S. writers with TV projects that “we can maybe insert Italian talent into, or that can be adapted into Italian, and produced for the Italian market,” he says.

Londono expects to be able to announce a U.S.-Italy co-production in the next six months.

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