DirecTV’s New Role: Show Saver

Like Friday Night Lights deal, satellite-TV operator will lend a hand.

It saved Passions. It saved Friday Night Lights. It almost saved The Riches.

And now DirecTV is on the lookout for other shows on the bubble where it can gain exclusive windows as part of a new strategy for its own network, The 101.

“You go out and beat the bushes and see what’s available,” DirecTV executive vice president of entertainment Eric Shanks said. “We would much prefer to do that than develop stuff from scratch.”

The satellite provider is looking to not only boost retention, but also to bring in new subscribers in its dogfight with the cable companies and Dish Network. Shanks hopes spending on exclusive airings of shows that have dedicated -- even if relatively small -- audiences might help.

“First and foremost is retention,” he said. “But we did some research before we licensed Friday Night Lights and we do feel like there will be some acquisitions because of the show. But who knows? It’s yet to be seen.”

A deal like FNL comes with a decent amount of investment, with DirecTV putting up about $12 million. That includes roughly 40% of the production budget, as well as marketing dollars. In return, it gets to show the first 13 episodes of the third season of FNL starting Oct. 1. NBC gets its window after DirecTV’s run is over.

DirecTV tried to work out a rescue plan for The Riches, which FX was trying to find a way to bring back for a third season. But with a budget of roughly $2 million per episode and middling ratings, the cable network was having trouble making the numbers work even if it reduced the budget.

While the sides couldn’t reach a deal, it showed that DirecTV is on the verge of becoming a new outlet for familiar shows that may need some help. “We definitely want to do these types of things in the future,” Shanks said. “It’s great that since we’ve decided to do this, there is now another outlet to keep great quality shows alive.”

But Shanks added that he needs to hear from networks and studios earlier on, saying, “Now that we are starting to create tighter relationships with networks and studios, the opportunities will hopefully come around sooner in the life cycle. So it’s not like, ‘We have a week left on the option, we have to make a decision in a week,’ which happens with some shows. Hopefully, we will start to get more mature as a process.”

DirecTV isn’t looking to take just anything off the scrap heap, but rather is seeking shows that come with a built-in rabid audience -- ideally those who congregate online, so there are direct paths of communication.

For FNL, DirecTV plans a big promotional push, and not just in its sports properties like its exclusive NFL Sunday Ticket out-of-market National Football League package. That’s because the high-school-football drama went further away from the gridiron as it tried to broaden its audience on NBC. So Shanks will also go after the non-football fans and female audience with promotions across multiple channels.

And hoping to keep fans roped in, DirecTV will also run a live “postgame” show after six of the 13 episodes it will air beginning Oct. 1.