BY JON LAFAYETTE More amazing than any of the special effects seen on the Steven Spielberg miniseries Taken may be the fact that Sci Fi Channel just about broke even on the $40 million epic the first time it aired. On cable, big-budget original programming usually pays for itself only after repeated airings, if then. These shows are usually designed to get the attention of viewers, but they also interest cable operators and the ad buyers on Madison Ave. Taken certainly managed to accomplish all of that, plus it has already nearly covered the cost of production, plus another $2-4 million spent to promote the series. Sci Fi president Bonnie Hammer said the program turned out not to be a loss leader. “We sold it very well. The ratings are extremely good, so there are absolutely no make-goods in that area,” she said. Ad sales for the main runs of the series generated more than $30 million on their own, based on the number of sponsorship packages the network sold. “We have a DVD, which will launch later in the year. We had a novelization, which is being sold in bookstores across the country. I think, as a whole, we capitalized wonderfully,” Hammer said. The network may also get a piece of the overseas sales of the show by partner DreamWorks, though Hammer declined to be specific about the deal’s details. More money will roll in when the network reruns the series. “We don’t know whether it will be third quarter or fourth quarter, and we hope to be able to sell it extremely well again, because we do believe the ratings will be strong in its second burst,” she said. “And don’t forget we amortize this over numerous years,” Hammer added. “So this will be one of those situations where we all do quite well, and we’re not paying it off nine years down the road.” Sci Fi had been pitching Taken on Madison Ave. for two years, but it was the new sales team at parent Universal Television led by Jeff Lucas that put the program into orbit. “We sold out Taken about two months prior to it airing,” Lucas said. “We wanted a fewer number of advertisers in the show,” especially the primary runs of it. The show had a set of six major sponsors, including General Motors, Radio Shack, IBM and Wendy’s, that each paid between $2 million and $3 million for their promotional packages. Another 16 advertisers ponied up between $500,000 and $750,000 to be part of the program. An additional 15 to 20 advertisers also bought smaller packages of commercials during the primary broadcast. “In the additional broadcasts, on the weekends and such, we did put some people in because we added those broadcasts later,” Lucas added. Some of those spots were inventory that had been held back in case make-goods were needed. “But in the primary runs of it, we had a limited number of advertisers, who are extremely happy. Everyone over-delivered significantly.” “Our clients were extremely pleased,” said Catherine Warburton-Scott, SVP and associate director for national broadcast at Carat USA, which buys ads for Radio Shack. Beyond the cash, Lucas said Taken changed the network’s perception among media buyers. “It reestablished Sci Fi. It put Sci Fi back on the map, and put it forefront in the minds of advertisers. It raised Sci Fi’s awareness,” he said. Lucas said Universal’s strategy for both Sci Fi and USA Network is to program original series and specials. “Original programming is where we’re going, and [Taken] provided a great promotional platform for Children of Dune, for Tremors.” With broad distribution, higher ratings and more awareness of its original programming, Lucas said he believes ad buyers will move Sci Fi from the tier two category of cable networks to tier one, where budgets are bigger and CPMs are higher. “Once it jumps into a tier one network, it will be in the same wheelhouse as A&E, Comedy Central, Discovery, E!, ABC Family, TBS, TNT. Now it’s going to be considered against all of them, and the CPM is dramatically lower than all of those other tier one networks,” he said. “Sci Fi is going to wind up being one of the most attractive networks there is in the upfront, based on original programming, based on ratings growth.” Tier one networks command CPMs in $14 range while tier two networks are in the midsingle-digit range, according to one source. With programming such as Taken, demand for Sci Fi should rise and pricing should follow. But some media buyers are still disbelievers. “One program doesn’t necessarily make them a tier one network,” said Harry Keeshan, EVP, director of national broadcast at PHD US, which buys ads for DaimlerChrysler. “It’s consistency that would make them a tier one network. And that program will hopefully get other programs on Sci Fi some good sampling.” Tier one networks have big original programming on the schedule frequently. “An A&E continually puts a big ratings getter out there. Sci Fi may get to that,” Keeshan said. “That’s a big investment, but they need to [make it]. But what’s next down the road? They can’t live on Taken alone. It’s a great step for them, but they’ve got to come through with what’s in the pipeline. That will get them consistency in pricing.” “Taken has brought them to the next level, but right now they’re not quite up to the level of USA and Turner,” added Carat’s Warburton-Scott. “But in the future, they could grow to that.” Sci Fi’s success means Universal is willing to gamble big money on the network again, said Hammer. “One of the things it taught us is if you build it and you build it well, the audience will come. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Channel 2, Channel 68 or Channel 99. If you market it properly and you have a great product, people will come and find it,” she said. “We know for a fact Taken raised the bar for Sci Fi, but I truly believe it raised the bar for the entire cable industry.”

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