EE Returns For Those Willing to Pay For It
By Larry Jaffee
What a difference a few months makes.
BBC America finally made good on its promise to explore other options for EastEnders,
following the late September cancellation, with possibly a pay-per-view (PPV) deal.
That turned out to be an exclusive arrangement
with Echostar's Dish Network, announced in early June (see official press release on page 3).
The exclusivity nature of the deal
has been criticised by some fans, who are either locked into contracts with competing satellite TV provider DirecTV.
The deal also is problematic for city dwellers, who-like me-live in a co-op apartment building with digital cable service from
Time Warner that also does not have the necessary direct southern exposure to pick up the signal (there's a tall skyscraper across
the street. It's very well possible that the Echostar pact was the best deal BBC America could make, given the circumstances.
Although I still think Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. would have been a better partner for regular satellite (DirecTV) and cable
(its niche FX channel) carriage rights, apparently neither party took seriously my attempts to help orchestrate a deal.
BBC America didn't want another cable network to prove that it was possible to find and build an audience for EastEnders,
especially one that was willing to pay for it. We all know the non-existent promotion BBC America allocated to EastEnders. BBC
America blamed its cancellation of EastEnders last fall on supposed poor ratings, but I believe it was instead a ploy to introduce
what should be a fairly successful model in America ($3.95 for a week's four episodes, or monthly subscription for $9.95).
American PPV has pretty much been the sole domain of movies or sporting events. It's quite groundbreaking for a cult series to be
exploited this way, and I'm sure Dish Network will sell quite a few satellite subscriptions to scores of Anglophiles and expats
as a result. Since the late September cancellation, fans have received weekly tapes from the U.K., and then pass them along by post to
others who need their weekly Albert Square fix. There are several dozen such "tape trains" throughout the country.
At least one is
known one for the new Dish Network feed, which picked up where EastEnders left off in late September (as Lisa emerges at Phil and
Kate's Queen Vic wedding celebration). Such a tape train is something of a double-edged sword because if Echostar does not get
the kind of numbers it projected for the EastEnders PPV, it's possible the tape train could negatively impact on the overall numbers
(sort of like Ralph Nader running for president and presumably taking votes away from the Democratic nominee).
Similarly, if fans
boycott the first EastEnders DVD, Slaters in Detention, which is essentially the same disc released last fall in the U.K., because
of the BBC America cancellation, they're just helping to prove what the BEEB contended: the EastEnders U.S. audience wasn't large
enough to make it a priority in the States no matter what an institution it is back home.
A British colleague of mine received
a media kit from BBC America, and found that the network's primetime viewership was only 60,000 viewers. BBC America has never
stated publicly exactly what the ratings were, but by even cable standards, 60,000 is not a particularly impressive number.
I still believe that the BBC America cancellation remains a sham. They inexplicably never tried to grow the viewership the
conventional way (i.e., on-air commercials, cross-promotion with other BBC America dramas starring EastEnders actors, etc.),
and are now merely trying to take advantage of a fanatical, captive audience willing to pay.
Gee, what an American thing to do!
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