Viacom’s recent launch of Spike, its male-skewed US channel, into the crowded UK free-to-air market is an important experiment in how well the media giant’s US content will travel after its acquisition of Channel 5.
Spike is already an established channel in the US, but the jury is out on how existing successful programmes will perform in other markets.
The UK schedule contains entertainment shows transferred directly from its US sibling. These include the flagship Lip Sync Battle, which Spike is hoping will help the channel appeal to a wider audience.
But it clearly has some safe bets in the portfolio too, not least the popular crime drama Breaking Bad – this is the first time the series will be shown in its entirety on British TV.
Spike’s average share of audience reached initial highs of up to 1.2 per cent – making the channel more popular than established pay-TV rivals such as Sky Living and Sky Atlantic.
Craig Morris, the launch director for Spike and head of channel management at Channel 5, is confident that Spike fills a gap in the UK market and Channel 5’s portfolio as it offers something for a female audience too.
He told Campaign: "There’s a real gap, particularly in the free-to-air market, for a channel that appeals to a lot of men and does not alienate women."
Philippe Dauman, the Viacom president and chief executive, has said the schedule will evolve to encompass original programming and Spike also hopes to secure further distribution on Virgin Media and Freesat.
John Heather, the head of audiovisual at ZenithOptimedia, sums up the general view of the market when he says that, ultimately, it will always come down to the range and quality of the channel’s programming.
The buzz around Spike seems to be positive so far, but Heather suggests that the headline shows will have to be backed up "with more than just multiple repeats of Police Interceptors to keep audiences interested".
There is much at stake for Spike’s transatlantic owner as it looks to use the UK as a stepping stone for further international launches.