Prepare to be amazed W it's....
Cue orchestral flourishes and lots of screaming. Shadowy figures emerged from the darkness around Stonehills Studio in Gateshead for the RTS North East & The Border Centre November event. Their ghoulish aim: to put under the spotlight the man who (like Frankenstein) had a dream, but found it turned at times into a nightmare.
Tony Hazell began to plan the Horror Channel soon after the transfer of God Digital away from Stonehills, where he ran operations for several years. From idea to launch was just over a year W in May 2004, with many of his trusted team from the Christian channels, he began broadcasting on satellite. Cable distribution is likely to be added next spring. Audience figures are heading towards his target 0.4% reach and last month he hit £100K in advertising sales W covering running costs for the first time.
But the journey has been hair-raising, as Annie Wood uncovered for the RTS 'in conversation' event at Stonehills. Tony (a producer/director who began his media career sweeping studio floors) had grappled with business plans, legal obstacles and the sharks of the world of fund raising. He made his task even harder by insisting the channel would be based in the North East.
His hard work raised £500K but he quickly realised he'd have been wiser to double it. Even more dangerous were the difficulties posed from funders. Disputes arose with a Venture Capitalist who was meant to deliver £250K. "It didn't arise W and he wanted to take over the company". Another investor was found, but the VC wouldn't allow him to join.
The answer was to take the company into administration one morning W then buy it out that night, leaving the problems with the VC behind. But to reach that stage, Tony had to risk even more of his own assets W which didn't leave him very popular with his family!
Now the launch battles are behind him, Tony is optimistic for the future. When audience figures hit their target, he plans to increase local production by commissioning a magazine programme. At present, promos and interviews are generated locally W acquisition is the vital activity and Tony has had to cope with prices forced up when the main channels spotted the competition and joined the bidding for horror films.
His research and also evidence from his flourishing website (250,000 hits per month) suggest the audience defies stereotyped expectation W it's ABC1 and skewed towards women.
Longer term he'd like to run more channels from Gateshead W "There is definitely a market in genre-led television" W with more production and his own playout facilities.
And he's determined to challenge what he sees as unfair interpretations of the watershed guidelines. "Sky Movies can do real horror at 9pm because they're scrambled. We can only start at 10. It's very unfair W parents should be responsible. They don't have to watch a Slasher movie if they don't want to. It would be nice to have a level playing field."
So why his loyalty to this region? He moved here thanks to marriage to a native North Easterner. "I wanted to stay in television in the North East W standard TV was closing; and I wanted to keep the team as well."
Perhaps our media strategy should include matchmaking?!
By Olwyn Hocking
The Horror Channel can be found on 330 on the Sky EPG