Bringing the FrightOn a Full-Time Basis

Peter Block, executive producer
of the Saw theatrical horror movie
franchise, will look to
scare cable viewers when he
takes over as president and
general manger of basiccable
channel FearNet when
it launches on Oct. 1. Block
recently talked to Multichannel
programming editor R.
Thomas Umstead to discuss the
linear launch of the Comcast,
Sony Pictures and Lionsgateowned
FearNet VOD service as
well as the overall popularity
of the horror genre. An edited
transcript follows.

MCN: Do you expect to go through a major transition
process from serving as an executive movie
producer to running a cable network?

Peter Block:
I don’t think it will be a huge transition
for a couple of reasons. I was around at the
inception of FearNet (in 2006) and I had served in
several executive capacities at Lionsgate — one of
which was being instrumental in the organization
of FearNet and later (premium movie service) Epix
— so this is something that has been percolating
with me for quite a while.

MCN: Is there room for a commercial-supported,
edited-for-content basic-cable horror network in a
crowded cable environment?

It’s an underserved market in cable. Yes, there
are great [thriller] shows on cable, whether it’s
some of the older horror titles that appear on [the
NBC Universal-owned, horror-themed basic cable
service) Chiller, like Dark Shadows or The Outer
, or current television shows like AMC’s
Walking Dead, but for us, it’s an opportunity to
provide a firm destination for this audience. There
are few competitors handling this type of product
— we embrace the genre and we in turn believe
the audience will embrace us.

MCN: Are you confi dent that the operators will
embrace FearNet and that you’ll have significant
distribution when you launch Oct. 1?

I think that we will have great distribution partners
prior to and after our launch. For us, it’s a matter
of educating distributors by showing them where the
marketplace has been theatrically and in home video
for many years, and to work with them to send the
right message out about FearNet. We have our Fear-
Net VOD and Internet offerings that [current FearNet
president] Diane [Robina] and her team have done
a fantastic job of branding and letting people know
that there’s a destination for horror content. Now
what we need to do for the FearNet linear channel is
tweak that to make it not only appealing to go into
homes, but also that cable, satellite
and telco operators feel comfortable
putting FearNet into homes.

MCN: While the service is launching
as predominately a movie
channel, do you foresee a time in
the near future where you’ll offer
original content?

It’s absolutely in the planning.
Obviously our first goal is
to get FearNet up and launched,
but eventually we will get into
original content. I’m really excited
about that — that’s the
real opportunity to marry what
I had been doing and what I’m
about to do.

MCN: What is the overall appeal of the horror genre
for audiences?

Dating back to [Edgar Allan] Poe and moving
into Stephen King, [Alfred] Hitchcock and to
all the successful filmmakers we have today, this
genre has been around for years and years. There’s
never been a time in cinematic history when the
horror and thriller genre hasn’t been a tremendous
draw at the box office. What’s fantastic about this
audience is that they’re a social bunch — FearNet
has been so successful because of the community
and outreach of support from fans.

MCN: Having said that, can you effectively move
that community from the Web and VOD to support
the channel on basic cable?

Is there a difference between the audience
that watches FearNet on VOD and the Internet
and those that will watch the linear channel?
I think so. We will have to deal with broadcast
standards and practices as we move into the linear
network and I think that will bring about a
different type of programming and a different
type of audience.

We’re like an amusement park in many ways — we
have the scariest of roller coasters, and then there’s
the log flume and the Ferris wheel. For each of us,
each one of those moments is scary in our opinion,
so for FearNet, it’s about finding programming that
serves a broad audience on the linear channel. Perhaps
we are a little harder-edged on the VOD site,
but we can soften it up on the linear service.

But if you look back at some of the great horror
films of all time, from the Hitchcock films to The
— or even the upcoming Lionsgate release
The Last Exorcism — they can play on linear right
now without a lot of editing and it doesn’t make
them less scary. We not only want to try to broaden
the audience, but also to broaden the audience’s
tastes as well.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.