All systems go for Australia's Sci Fi launch


SYDNEY -- After seven years in the blueprint stage, Australia's Sci Fi Channel finally gets its launch Dec. 1.

Distribution agreements for the channel were finally signed with pay TV carriers Foxtel and Austar on Oct. 9, giving the Australian channel's owners and managers just under 10 weeks to put the channel to air.

Unlike other markets, where the Sci Fi Channel is directly owned by NBC Universal, Sci Fi Australia will be programmed and packaged here by the TV1 General Entertainment Partnership, a joint venture between NBC Universal, CBS Paramount International Television and Sony Pictures International Television. The partnership owns and operates the top-rated general entertainment channel in this market, TV1.

"The timing is right, now -- everything is aligned," TV1 General Entertainment Partnership CEO Peter Hudson said.

"We'd recently completed our contract extensions and strengthened our distribution relationship with Fxotel and Austar," Hudson said. "They were looking for a strong channel to launch over the Australian summer and Sci Fi, being such a strong brand provides them with that. Getting the concept of the entire channel agreed to with Foxtel was the key."

Access to programming has never been a problem for the channel. In addition to series from its studio owners, Sci Fi also will get series from 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., MGM and Alliance Atlantis, giving the channel "the bet possible programming in the universe," according to Hudson, who expects the channel to quickly become one of the top three rated channels on Australian pay TV.

The branding for the channel, however, is being licensed from NBC Universal. "If we have the best programming we wanted the best look and we've got that licensing Sci Fi from NBC Universal," Hudson explained..

The channel has a ready made audience with latent demand from fans who have made TV1's Sci Fi programming block the second most popular program stream on its schedule behind "Law and Order: SVU," Hudson said.

The channel will launch with "Stargate: SG1," "Stargate: Atlantis," and "Battlestar Galactica" and also will have the entire "Star Trek" franchise, "Farscape" along with more supernatural-style series like "The 4400," "Buffy," "Thunderbirds" and the "The X-Files." The channel also will venture into some anime, acquiring programs like "Samurai X" and "Tripping the Rift."