Sex and the City and Sopranos channel eyes UK market

LONDON - HBO, the US cable network behind 'Sex and the City', 'The Sopranos' and 'Six Feet Under', wants to launch a UK channel to capitalise on the success of its award-winning programming.

In an interview with the Financial Times' Creative Business supplement, HBO chief executive Chris Albrecht says that a UK channel is "something I would love to see, and I'd entertain anybody who has any ideas about how to put that together. But it's a hard road for us".

He says that it is difficult finding a partner to help launch the channel, and hard to persuade enough people to pay for it. However, with the demographics showing that a desirable audience comprising heavily of 16- to 34-year-old ABC1 viewers watches 'Sex and the City' and 'The Sopranos', HBO's programming is attractive for UK advertisers.

The channel already has local offerings in Asia, Latin America and central Europe, but not in western Europe.

In the US, 39m households subscribe to HBO or its sister channel Cinemax, and the channel is one of the bright spots for troubled parent company AOL Time Warner. The company does not rely on advertising revenue and, along with its quality original programming, the show also runs movies and low-budget documentaries.

Channel 4 has done well from screening several hit HBO shows, while BBC Four has picked up 'Curb Your Enthusiasm', a cult show in the US, which is starting to be talked about in the UK.

In a cultural exchange, HBO has taken Ali G to the US -- although this has been received with mixed reviews. Launching here would give HBO the opportunity to produce UK content.

HBO has a problem, however, because 'Sex and the City' and 'The Sopranos' each only have one more season left to run. 'The Sopranos'' final season is only to be made after a dispute over payment of its star, James Gandolfini.

New projects on the horizon include 'Deadwood', a twist on the Western genre, and a new drama by 'Hill Street Blues' creator Stephen Bocho. There is also talk of a male version of 'Sex and the City'.

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