Spartacus: Blood and Sand is set to become the new flagship show for GO! when it has its Australian premiere tomorrow night.
The US cable series, featuring Australian Andy Whitfield as the leader of the Roman slaves, has been a hit series for the Starz Network and attracted buzz for its buff gladiators, gory violence, CGI special effects and sex scenes. It is the kind of alternative viewing that Nine’s Director of Acquisitions and HD Channel, Les Sampson, calls a perfect fit.
“It’s got action, sex appeal, it’s the brand of the channel. It’s a mega series,” he told TV Tonight.
“And the great thing is there’s an Australian in the lead, and another in Season Two and it’s shot in our region as well. So it’s got some good breeding!”
Since launching a year ago, GO! quickly established itself as the leading multichannel.
“We’ve won every week in 16-39, 18-49, 24-54 and Total People. We’re very much focussed on the 14-39 demo and giving complementary programming to the premium channel. So we’ve met all the targets which is great.
“We’re also very focussed on a 24 hour schedule which is so important in a multichannel environment.
“The premium channel is focussed on the 25-54 demos so it gives our sales team a great product to go to market and sell.”
Sampson says there have been lessons learned along the way, and that the infant channel is still undergoing change.
“This channel has grown from Day One. Every single day we’ve learned something different about how the channel performs.
“For example, we thought Music would be a great fit. And it is an important part of the channel but everybody’s taste is different,” he says.
“We found with Music Programming it didn’t deliver the eyeballs. People found their music in other forms rather than just on television.
“We also learned what shows were successful. Comedy shows did extremely well. Sci Fi and Movies have done very well. So we’ve learned as we go through the process what the audience likes and what the audience doesn’t like.”
With its Pay TV-model of block programming in the Daytime, the channellaunched in August 2009 with its hottest titles in primetime: The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Fringe and The Hills.
More recently some key titles have seen their timeslots replaced by movies, reruns of The Big Bang Theory, Top Gear with midnight starting times for some shows such as Chuck.
“I was very disappointed with Chuck on GO!” says Sampson.
“The issue we had was that it had already been played quite a lot on Foxtel and there was DVD access as well. As a result it didn’t deliver. So we reacted to the audience, and the audience wasn’t there.
“I don’t want to pull things off the schedule, but we’ll move things around.”
Rights for the second series won’t become available until 2011. Sampson also responded to numerous timechanges for Gossip Girl.
“In Sydney where the penetration of Foxtel is a lot higher a lot more people have seen Gossip Girl, particularly Seasons 1 and 2 which are doing very strong numbers on iTunes.”
But GO! will launch Season Three of Gossip Girl within the next two weeks, ahead of the DVD release in early December.
“Every show I put on the schedule I’m hoping it will deliver solid numbers. I don’t put any show on the schedule unless I have real passion it will do solid numbers. If it doesn’t I guess I have to swallow my pride and find a better spot for it.”
As a national signal channel, there are also restrictions on replays of M and MA related content during the daytimes during school holidays. There have been 9 weeks of school holidays across Australia during May – July.
“So we can’t do our catch-up element during the Daytime in that area. But when we are outside School Holiday restrictions we’ll do catch-up.”
Sampson says the youth audience for GO! is tapped into the online community and he defends late programming changes are quickly understood via Twitter, Facebook and social networking sites.
“If we do a programme change in the morning they would know within a period of about an hour that we’ve done the change. That’s one thing which is great about the 14-39 demos they are media savvy, tech-savvy and have a massive appetite for content,” he says.
Despite negative feedback on it own website that suggests otherwise, Sampson says the audience has reportedly given positive feedback to the idea of late night timeslots for some of its key titles.
“People are saying ‘We love the fact you’re playing it at midnight because we want to watch something else at 8:30,” he says.
“We want to at all times maintain first-run content. I said at the launch we aim to have 10 or 11 first-run shows in primetime, which we continue to aim to do, unlike Foxtel where most of the channels consist of repeat content.
“At least 10 or 11 shows in primetime are first run, and that includes Movies.
“On average 2-3 per week are Free to Air first runs.”
GO! plans to also fastrack The Vampire Diaries and Hellcats soon as the US Fall season gets underway.