EXCLUSIVE: With pilot season, the upfronts and the LA Screenings now behind us, numerous UK broadcasters are in various stages of acquiring next season’s new shows for their schedules (Sky Living just acquired The Blacklist from Sony Pictures Television, while Disney Media Distributions’ Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. & CBS Studios International’s The Millers and We Are Men are also close to landing sales with UK broadcasters). While all eyes are on these new series and the various deals that are being hammered out, TVWise continues its extensive acquisitions coverage with our broadcaster-by-broadcaster breakdown of which current shows will be coming back later this year or early next.
In this rundown (following our rundowns on Alibi, Comedy Central, Dave, FOX, Really, TCM and Watch), we take a look at Syfy UK. The channel, which is owned and operated by Universal Networks International (the global channels division of NBCUniversal), launched in the UK in the mid 1990s (as the Sci-Fi Channel) offering science-fiction and other genre programming. It was in 2010 that the channel, as part of a global move on the part of Universal Networks International, rebranded to Syfy and despite a recent push into original commissions from a number of UK broadcasters (such as BSkyB, UKTV and FOX, for example), Syfy UK has largely avoided going down that path and remains an acquisitions centric channel, airing a mix of science-fiction and genre movies, mini-series and drama series.
The general acquisitions strategy of Syfy UK has been to mirror the scripted (and unscripted, to a lesser extent) output of the flagship US Syfy channel, which has been investing heavily in original content for the past several years. Even so, insiders have admitted the difficulty in mirroring the entire line up of their American cousin. “It’s not always possible”, one source told me. “Competition for [U.S.] content is fierce and on several occasions we’ve haven’t managed it.” A good example of which is the recent bidding war that erupted over the UK rights to the US adaptation of Being Human which was eventually snapped up by UKTV’s Watch channel. Given that, Adam Collings [Channel Director, Syfy UK] and his team have looked a little further a field to stock their schedule over the past few years with the acquisitions of V, which aired on ABC in the US; not to mention the New Zealand series The Almighty Johnsons; Canadian series’ Continuum and Lost Girl; as well as numerous mini-series from independent distributors.
The approach has been a generally successful one and has led to some increase in the ratings. The channel’s three highest rated series are Defiance (0.31 million viewers), Warehouse 13 (0.29 million viewers) and Haven (0.22 million viewers). Canadian import Continuum, which recently returned for a second season, is still a solid performer but slipped from being the channel’s top rated series with 0.4 million viewers in its first season, to averaging (season-to-date) an audience of 0.22 million viewers. While fellow Canadian import Lost Girl has also slid in the ratings in its latest season (down 45% year-on-year), as did the second season of The Almighty Johnsons (which averaged 0.13 million viewers, down 41% on season 1). All three, however, are still performing above the slot-average and (as previously reported) The Almighty Johnsons will return to Syfy UK later this year for its third season. That said, the numbers make it clear that, while casting a wider net for acquisitions and looking outside the US for new content can be successfully done, American series still reign supreme and tend to frequently out perform the aforementioned global series. Given that, it comes as no surprise that the three US series to which Syfy UK holds the first window rights to will all be returning later this year or early next for new seasons. I’ve confirmed that Syfy UK has picked up the rights to Defiance season 2, Haven season 4 and Warehouse 13 season 5. Full details follow below….
Developed for television by Rockne S. O’Bannon, Kevin Murphy & Michael Taylor, Defiance is set in the near future and introduces a world where humans and aliens must learn to live together on an exotic new Earth that has been transformed by alien terra-forming machines. The series follows the residents of town called Defiance as they go about their daily lives in this new world. The drama series is produced by Universal Cable Productions and stars Grant Bowler, Tony Curran, Julie Benz, Jaime Murray, Mia Kirshner and Graham Greene. Defiance is not merely a TV series but a multi-platform project encompassing both an MMO game and Syfy’s weekly TV series, in which events in one world can and will directly affect the other. Sources that the project cost Syfy and Trion somewhere in the realm of $100 million, with Syfy having been locked in for two seasons from day one (just as they were for Stargate: Universe).
Defiance was a series that Syfy UK had long had its eye on, dating back to the early days of development, and following the 2012 LA Screenings the Universal Networks International owned channel entered negotiations with corporate sibling NBCUniversal International Television Distribution. And while sources refused to elaborate on who the other bidders were, I’m told that the channel did face competition from at least one other UK broadcaster. But Syfy UK, intent on having the series on their schedule as part of their strategy to mirror the scripted output of the US Syfy channel (something which is not always possible), managed to secure the series in an exclusive deal with NBCUITD in January 2013. At the time of the acquisition Syfy UK announced plans to air the series with 24 hours of its US broadcast, partly to capitalize on the buzz from the United States and partly to cut down on piracy. It immediately became clear that Defiance was a key priority for Syfy UK who utilised an extensive advertising and marketing campaign for the series, which, as Syfy UK promised, launched on Monday April 16th, a mere 24 hours behind the premiere state-side. Just as it did for the US Syfy channel, the series premiere of Defiance debuted strongly, with almost 0.5 million viewers tuning in, making it the channel’s highest rated launch in the better part of 3 years, since the premiere of V in 2010. Across the remaining episodes of the show’s first season the series saw a fairly steep drop in the ratings (which is not unusual for a new series), but went on to average an audience of 0.31 million viewers, well above the slot average and outstripping Lost Girl, Continuum, Warehouse 13 and Haven to become the channel’s highest rated series. Sources tell me that under their existing deal with NBCUniversal International Television Distribution Syfy UK holds the rights to the show’s 13 episode second season. I’m also told that they will again be airing the series very closely behind its US premiere, which is currently being eyed for Summer 2014.
Based on Stephen King’s novella The Colorado Kid, Haven tells the story of Audrey Parker, an FBI agent who comes to the idyllic town of Haven, Maine on assignment only to discover a personal connection to the town through her long lost mother. Audrey opts to stay in Haven to investigate ‘The Troubles’, a series of paranormal events that have previously struck the town and have suddenly started up again. The drama series is produced by Entertainment One and stars Emily Rose, Lucas Bryant and Eric Balfour. The show’s fourth season picks up six months after the devastating events of the Season 3 cliff-hanger, in which the town was pummeled by a violent meteor storm, resulting in Audrey and Duke vanishing into thin air leaving an injured Nathan marooned in Haven.
Haven is in a unique position on Syfy UK. As covered above, Syfy UK is an acquisitions driven channel, requiring them to strike deals, on a semi-regular basis, with countless international distributors. Haven is unique in as much as it isn’t in fact an acquisition but a co-production. The production company behind the series (Entertainment One) chose, as they have done countless times, to commit to producing a first season before ever landing at a broadcaster in any country, in this case under the assumption that having Stephen King’s name attached to the project would be enough to sell it around the world/fine co-producers for the series. That gamble paid off and it was in November 2009 that eOne announced that they had entered into a co-production agreement with Syfy, Canwest and Universal Networks International. Under the terms of the deal Syfy would air the series in the US, Canwest on its Showcase channel in Canada, and Universal Networks International would air the series globally (except Scandianavia) on its international pay TV channels. Since then, every new season of Haven has had to be co-commissioned by the three partners. Haven premiered on Syfy UK in October 2010, with the pilot bringing in 0.22 million viewers, which was (at the time) one of the channel’s better rated debuts and well above the slot average. Across the show’s first season, Haven saw a minimal drop off in the ratings and averaged an audience of 0.20 million viewers. The show’s second season followed in October 2011 and saw a fairly substantial increase in the ratings, with an average audience of 0.27 million viewers, up 35% on season one. The most recent season, the show’s third, premiered on Syfy UK in October 2012. Across the 13 episode third season, Haven averaged 0.22 million viewers, down 19% on the previous season, but still up on the figures for the show’s first season. Under the terms of the co-production agreement, Syfy UK holds the exclusive UK rights to Haven for the life of the series. I’m told that the plan is to premiere Haven season 4 closely behind its US premiere, which is set for September 13th.
Created by Brent Mote and Jane Espenson, Warehouse 13 follows a team of government agents who work at a massive, top-secret storage facility in windswept South Dakota, which houses every strange artifact, mysterious relic, fantastical object and preternatural souvenir ever collected by the U.S. government. The Warehouse’s caretaker Artie Nielsen charges Pete Lattimer, Myka Bering, Claudia Donovan and Steve Jinks with chasing down reports of supernatural and paranormal activity in search of new objects to cache at the Warehouse, as well as helping him control the Warehouse itself. The drama series is produced by Universal Cable Productions and stars Eddie McClintock, Joanne Kelly, Saul Rubinek and Allison Scagliotti. Recurring guest stars include CCH Pounder and Faran Tahir.
The longest running series currently airing on Syfy UK, Warehouse 13 (which was recently renewed for an abbreviated fifth and final season of six episodes) has been a fixture on the channel for the past four years and has been part of the stated desire to mimic the scripted output of the US Syfy channel as much as is possible. Syfy UK acquired Warehouse 13 in an exclusive deal with NBCUniversal International Television Distribution in 2009 at a time when the channel was making a renewed push into exclusive first run content (said push also included the acquisition of Eureka, which had previously aired on Sky1). Ever since its debut on the channel in September 2009, Warehouse 13 has been a key title for Syfy UK and quickly established a dedicated following. The premiere episode of the series was watched by over 0.5 million viewers, a record which has not been broken since, though the recent premiere of Defiance came close to doing so. Across its first season Warehouse 13 attracted an audience of 0.45 million viewers, ranking several hundred per cent above the slot average (the figures are also noteworthy for the overall audience retention from episode one through episode 13). The show’s second season again saw Warehouse 13 rank as one of the channel’s highest rated series with an average audience of 0.27 million viewers, despite being 40% down on the ratings for season one. The show’s third season followed in August 2011 and managed to build its audience by 19% with an average audience of 0.32 million viewers. The most recent season, the show’s fourth, was split in two runs of 10 episodes which aired from September 2012 and May 2013, respectively. Across all 20 episodes, the fourth season of Warehouse 13 pulled in an average audience of 0.29 million viewers, slightly down on the figures for the 13 episode third season, but still rating well above the slot average and ranking as Syfy UK’s second highest rated series behind newcomer Defiance and its 0.31 million viewers. In addition to the ratings Warehouse 13 enjoys strong support amongst execs at the UK channel. “It’s a very important title”, one source opined before adding that a lot of the recent ratings growth the channel has seen was down, in no small part, to the draw of the series. Given that, there was never any chance that the channel would not be airing the upcoming fifth and final season. I understand that under an existing deal with NBCUniversal International Television Distribution Syfy UK holds the rights to the six episode fifth season which recently started production in Toronto. It’s unclear just when the fifth season will hit Syfy UK, but the US premiere is tentatively scheduled for Summer 2014.