Sci Fi Focuses Development on New Platforms

Mar 27, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Sci Fi Channel is putting ghosts in the machine.

Following through on NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker’s recent promise to create digital packages for television series, Sci Fi’s upcoming reality program “Psychic at Large” will include unique companion webisodes, while returning series “Ghost Hunters” will be sold on iTunes along with an exclusive free best-of episode.

“Every single show in development at Sci Fi now has a broadband video component,” said Craig Engler, senior VP of SciFi.com.

The moves are in preparation for the planned May launch of Sci Fi’s broadband channel. Sci Fi recently established a new media team, headed by Mr. Engler, in preparation for the launch.

“Ghost Hunters” and “Psychic at Large” premiere Wednesday as part of the network’s “alternative reality” block. For “Psychic,” which stars purported medium Char Margolis, the channel plans to post a companion series in which Ms. Margolis teaches viewers how to develop their own psychic ability. A new three- to five-minute episode will be posted on SciFi.com after each linear episode’s telecast. The site will also host

an online psychic reading with Ms. Margolis.

In addition, Sci Fi plans to make returning series “Ghost Hunters” its second iTunes offering. Earlier this year the network put “Battlestar Galactica” onto the service. Though the network declined to release sales figures, the show has frequently been ranked among the top 10 videos sold on iTunes.

Sci Fi will also offer an exclusive “Ghost Hunters” compilation episode, “The Best of Ghost Hunters Vol. 1,” on iTunes and SciFi.com. The compilation episode will be offered for free to help boost online interest in the series.

“From a macro level, putting ‘Ghost Hunters’ on iTunes is just one more case of our continued commitment to be where our consumer is going,” said Adam Stotsky, senior VP of marketing and creative for Sci Fi Channel. “But specifically, we’ve seen ‘Battlestar’ be a success, and it gives us some understanding of what may work from a scripted standpoint. ‘Ghost Hunters’ will be a great test case to see how unscripted programming does on the platform.”

Details about Sci Fi’s broadband channel are still sketchy; not even a name has been announced for the channel. Mr. Engler indicated that some planned content might migrate to the linear channel.

For example, the network has launched a new technology blog, Sci Fi Tech, which tackles technology issues from a user-friendly standpoint. The content might lend itself to interstitial programming on the linear network.

“In the future you can see a ‘Sci Fi Tech Minute’ on Sci Fi that started out as the blog online. There’s some potential reverse engineering there,” Mr. Engler said.

In one new example, that reverse engineering is already taking place. One SciFi.com feature, the entertainment news service Sci Fi Wire, has been adapted into a series by Sci Fi’s United Kingdom counterpart. If successful on the U.K. channel, the series might migrate to the domestic channel.

Will Richmond, analyst for Broadband Directions, said Sci Fi Channel’s plans are aligned with the industry’s overall trend toward establishing unique online identities.

“It sounds like another example of cable channel initiatives for the branch into broadband, and all of these efforts are critical to ensuring that networks fully exploit the broadband platform and solidify their position as leaders in their categories,” he said.

Mr. Richmond then added: “Man, I feel like I’m saying that a lot lately.”