History is written by the victors. Now they get to work weekends too.
This month, The History Channel U.K. begins programming ten hours each weekend in addition to five on weekdays. A cable and satellite venture of BSkyB and A&E, the channel has been on air since 1995 with a penetration of 4.5 million homes. History U.K. fills about 50% of its time with productions out of, and geared to, the U.K.
For the History Classics strand (weekends, 4:00 p.m.), the channel has the first U.K. run for four half-hour series: Men in Crisis, David Wolper Productions (U.S.); Battleline, Sherman Grinman Productions (U.S.); World War I, CBS; and Victory at Sea, NBC.
Also slated for this fall: Unsolved Mysteries of World War II, a series from Castle Vision (U.K.); Legends of the Isles, a docudrama from Ireland’s Emdee Productions; and a Biography strand including U.K. commissions.
Head of programming Sarah Allan says History’s arrangement with Emdee for Legends is
typical of the deal she’s seeking. Commissioned by TLC, History anted up only for the
U.K. premiere. ‘We’re providing top-up money and pre-sales, but we’re not commissioning anything,’ says Allen. ‘We’re more likely to pay a premium to secure the first U.K. run.’ Allen says 10-15% of the budget is all she’s usually in a position to kick in.
As for programming strategy down the road, History U.K. is still testing a variety of formats. Series of 13 (hours or half-hours) work, and there’s flexibility to schedule one-offs, particularly for theme weeks. Aiming to mark historic events, the channel will offer themed programming for the 80th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, the golden wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth and Israel’s 50th anniversary, among others.
Allen is working on a deal with Carlton’s itv regional services to take a first window on their product. Currently, itv takes exclusive cable and satellite for three years on anything they finance. If History is allowed the first U.K. window, says Allen, the additional cash would allow ITV to work with bigger budgets.
This month also marks The History Channel’s expansion into the Nordic region and Baltic territories via an agreement between A&E and The Modern Times Group. Three hours of primetime programming a day will be transmitted via the Viasat + DTH package on TV Sat 2, cable and SMATV systems.