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Sci Fi Targets Late Night

In an attempt to lure younger viewers and expand the reach of its brand, Sci Fi Channel is launching Ani-Monday, a two-hour late-night block of anime programming. Set to premiere June 11, the slate will put the network in direct competition with Cartoon Network's late-night ratings powerhouse Adult Swim, which programs anime as well.

Running from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., the block will include acquired series, movies and shorts.

The content comes from Manga, one of three major U.S. anime distributors and a unit of Starz Media, which produces Sci Fi's live-action original Painkiller Jane, among other network shows.

Sci Fi, which signed a one-year deal with Starz, is aiming to better reach an 18- to 34-year-old male audience and convert those new viewers into fans of Sci Fi's other content.

If successful, the move would lower the network's median age (currently about 45) and hopefully attract more advertising from young male-targeting categories, like movies and electronics. Sci Fi would then likely work the formula across other nights.

The network recently got approval from parent company NBC Universal to start a business division, which is producing Sci Fi-branded comic books in partnership with Virgin Comics. Sci Fi is also considering feature films, videogames and mobile products.

“This is part of a whole initiative to target a youth audience and figure out how we start to transform the Sci Fi brand away from just being a TV cable brand and more into a lifestyle brand that can move into other levels,” says Executive VP/GM Dave Howe.

Sci Fi has been eyeing late night for years and enters the market at a time when the daypart has never been more competitive. Late-night ad revenue reached nearly $1 billion for broadcast alone last year, and cable networks are increasingly programming in that time period as well.

Sci Fi will most directly battle Adult Swim, which targets the same young-male audience and programs six nights a week for a total of 45 hours. (Cartoon Network recently announced a move to expand the block to include Fridays.)

For 2007 to date, Adult Swim has averaged 281,000 viewers among men 18-34 from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. for the six days it programs. For the same period, Sci Fi averaged 44,000 males age 18-34 from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on those days. Currently, Sci Fi runs acquired movies during those hours. By comparison, the network averaged 121,000 males 18-34 during prime hours 8-11 p.m.

Viacom's Comedy Central lures just as many 18-34 males as Cartoon with its Daily Show/Colbert Report late-night salvo.

And Turner's comedy-focused TBS has also added originals to its late-night hours over the past year, including half-hour comedies and last summer's experimental, live interactive game show Midnight Money Madness.