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Virgin orders comedy shorts, buys Magic City

magic_city_2_425UK pay TV provider Virgin Media is pushing further into original programming, commissioning Avalon Television to produce a series of comedy shorts and buying US drama Magic City, TBI has learned.

Ordering Edinburgh Comedy Shorts (WT) marks the first time the Liberty Global-owned broadband and pay TV company has commissioned programming.

This comes after the announcement of a major push into original drama programming with its cousin, All3Media, and parent, Liberty Global. Both moves place Virgin more directly in competition with pay TV rivals Sky and BT, and SVOD player Netflix, although it offers content from these providers and considers itself primarily as an aggregator.

Magic City, meanwhile, becomes Virgin’s third UK-exclusive US programme following a deal with Starz, after another with Starz for Ash Vs Evil Dead and another with Endemol Shine International for Kingdom. The series (pictured) ran on Starz, which is connected to Virgin Media through Liberty Global chairman John Malone, for two seasons.

The drama, which follows gangsters in Miami after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, will debut next month. “It’s high-concept, and would be stretch for terrestrial and is therefore perfect for pay,” said Virgin Media’s chief digital entertainment officer, David Bouchier.

Meanwhile, Avalon is in Edinburgh this month at the Fringe Festival filming the 15 shorts that will comprise Edinburgh Comedy Shorts, which will be released exclusively for an initial month on Virgin’s streaming TV Anywhere services, Bouchier told TBI.

“We are dependent on, and get the benefit from, our content partners, but there is an opportunity for us to do exclusive content in a targeted way that only our subscribers get,” said Bouchier. “It’s not something we’ve been associated with recently, and we need to get into it. However, we don’t need to drop tens of millions on it.”

“Avalon is the UK’s foremost comedy producer, and that’s why it is in Edinburgh creating the shorts for us,” he added.

The shorts will debut on Virgin Media’s streaming service, which is powered by its super-fast internet infrastructure, for a month. “This is important because it makes our streaming service a destination to go to, and increases the audience.”

Bouchier said the company would also look at co-productions for big-budget programming, which will go alongside the exclusive dramas it gets from the Liberty-All3Media output agreement, and is dipping its “toe in the water commissioning” for short-form exclusives.

Bouchier was drafted in last year to create Virgin Media’s content strategy. He has since hired former Channel 4 buyer Gill Hay as acquisitions chief and David Twallin as head of programming.

Read a full interview with David Bouchier on Virgin Media’s content plans in the October/November issue of Television Business International