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DirecTV’s ‘Premium’ Twist to ‘101’

6/27/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

DirecTV has rebranded its original-programming outlet to The Audience Network from the numerically correct
The 101. It’s been a second home to such brilliant-but-challenged series as NBC’s Friday Night Lights and
former FX drama Damages, which kicks off a fourth season exclusively on DirecTV on July 13. Derek Chang,
DirecTV’s executive vice president of content strategy and development, spoke with Multichannel News
programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the channel’s new outlook.

MCN: Why did you decide to change the
name of the channel?

Derek Chang: The 101 did a nice job for
us, but it never really articulated what
it meant in a way that really resonated
with our customers, and said to them,
‘Hey, you’re a special DirecTV customer,
and in addition to all this great premium
product we give you — whether it’s
the service or the sports or HD — here’s
another added benefi t of being a Direc-
TV customer.’ Also, in conjunction with
the launch of Damages, it made a lot of
sense to do it now. I think people are
responding to it and I think, in terms of
the look and feel, people understand that it is a premium
product and it’s something special for our customers.

MCN: What are you expecting
to see out of Damages, from an audience perspective?

DC: I foresee it performing well. Damages was a unique
opportunity — it’s obviously a critically acclaimed show,
and I think we have a core group of customers that enjoy
it. It’s going to be two-fold. It’s going to obviously affect
customers of ours who are fans of the show or haven’t
been fans and now have an opportunity to become fans. It
also impacts us indirectly in that it’s another offering that
builds value for DirecTV.

Not everyone is a football fan, but they know we have
‘[NFL] Sunday Ticket’; not everyone uses every feature of
our advanced technology, but they know we have the best
technology. Even if a customer is not necessarily a Damages
fan, they know we have it, they know we’re doing interesting
stuff and they know that we care about them as
customers.

MCN: Damages was highly acclaimed on FX and won a
couple of Emmy Awards, but it didn’t draw the sizable audience
that network was looking for. How many viewers
will it take to make Damages successful for DirecTV?

DC: I think it’s already been successful regardless of
where the [audience] numbers end up, but just in terms
of what it’s done for us and our ability to promote the
DirecTV experience.

MCN: It seems that every time a show gets
cancelled on cable or broadcast TV, DirecTV
is mentioned as a potential outlet to continue
that show.

DC: You should see the e-mails that I get.
(Laughs.)

MCN: Is that the business that you want to
be in — being opportunistic and putting your
stamp on shows that didn’t work on other
networks?

DC: I wouldn’t say that that’s the focus of the
network. I think it’s a byproduct, or something
that happens along the way. But I think
the focus is to present product to our customers
in a premium fashion and let them know
that we care about them as customers and that this will be
a unique experience.

How we get there happens in a few different ways, one of
which is something similar to what we’ve done with Damages,
which had a nice run on FX and carries a built-in audience
but wasn’t going to get renewed, so we were able to capitalize.
You know, what we did with Friday Night Lights.

Is that the way we’re going to do every show? I don’t
think so, because we’re also getting critically acclaimed
product internationally, as well as
premium shows that have run before
like [HBO’s] Oz and Deadwood that
ran to a limited audience. The Dan
Patrick Show
has been one of our
signature shows that people don’t
necessarily think about, because it’s
not a drama, but I think that’s been a
show that’s done phenomenally well
for us.

MCN: Having said that, are there
any shows expected to debut on the
channel in the near future?

DC: We have a few things in the
works, although I can’t get specific
with you right now on any of the
projects. It’s a variety of comedy,
drama and sports-related stuff .
We’ll see which ones pan out, but
I think right now, clearly our focus
is on launching Damages.

MCN: Do you see an opportunity to launch original programming
exclusive to the channel?

DC: I think that’s a harder gambit for us. I think we will do
it, but it won’t be like a new show on broadcast or a widelydistributed
cable network. We just don’t have the resources
to go make an investment like that when you’re talking
about an audience of 20 million people. That being said,
we’ll take on smaller projects that are originals and see
what we can do with those.

September