Teens by invitation only. How often do you hear that? According to Midge Pierce, VP of programming for Colorado-based pay-TV channel WAM!, not nearly often enough. ‘The lack of dedicated material for these kids is scary, so we’re trying to provide a destination where they can learn something, grow a bit and really find their place in the world.’ The 24-hour net’s new Teens By Invitation Only block is one way to start filling that tall order. Housing a different teen-skewing flick with celebrity appeal or coming-of-age relevance each week, the block represents a strategic shift for WAM!
The bulk of the channel’s schedule caters to the middle of its eight to 16 demo, leaving the upper end somewhat underserved, says Pierce. ‘We’re the largest supplier of subject-specific Cable in the Classroom programs in the U.S.,’ she explains, usually airing weekdays until 3 p.m. After school, the channel airs entertainment series. The new block takes the place of what Pierce calls period dramas, including Canadian series Emily of New Moon (Salter Street Films and Cinar) and Wind at My Back (Sullivan Entertainment). ‘They’re soft, more for families during dinner hours,’ she says. ‘But we thought a dependable viewing destination would encourage kids to stay at home on Friday night’ and hang out with friends.
Focus groups suggested that teens wanted a cool name they could call their own, says Pierce. Citing the Instant Messaging trend and a proclivity for acronyms, Pierce says Teens By Invitation Only was quickly reduced to TBIO.
Demo expansion aside, the new teen flick initiative is also a cost-effective way to use available programming resources more efficiently. As part of Starz Encore, a satellite and cable caster delivering premium movie channels, WAM! has access to a huge library of movies that it hasn’t traditionally tapped into. Twenty have been selected so far, including 10 Things I Hate About You and Drop Dead Gorgeous. Starz Encore gets exclusive North American rights for one to two years, and WAM! movies won’t air on any of the other channels in the Group. Pierce expects the draw of exclusive blockbuster pics to attract new subscribers beyond the seven million it has to date (up from 3.5 million over a year ago).
Pierce is on the prowl for other teen-appealing programming to bolster the block, putting ‘lifestyle, music and celebrity-oriented material’ at the top of her list.