News Corp.’s 4-year-old Fox Reality Channel will cease operations next year, paving the way for a new venture from the Fox Cable Networks group and, very likely, an outside party.
Currently available in nearly 50 million homes, FRC in its present form will go away on March 31, a rep for the network confirmed Wednesday. Less than two dozen staff positions at the network, part of the Fox Cable Networks group, will be lost.
"With the changing cable landscape, we’ve made a strategic decision to shift some resources and refocus on emerging channels," a Fox Cable Networks spokesman told TheWrap. "However, Fox Reality Channel will remain on on our lineup for at least the next several months"
David Lyle, the head of FRC, broke the news to staffers this afternoon, the day after the network’s annual (and final) Really Awards bash was taped in Los Angeles (for an Oct. 17 broadcast). Programming and production chief Bob Boden announced earlier this year he was leaving FRC to join Hasbro.
Lyle is said to be discussing other jobs within the Fox Cable Networks group, though his future at the company is unclear. Fox Cable is said to be trying to find new positions within the division for the lower-level staffers impacted by the change.
As far as viewers are concerned, FRC may still exist after March 31– though in just what form, and for how long, is unclear.
That’s because there’s growing buzz around the TV business that News Corp. has more interesting ideas in the works for the channel now known as FRC.
A complete rebranding of the network — including a new name and a different focus — is understood to be in the works. Another party outside of the Fox Cable Networks group is understood to be in advanced conversations to come aboard to participate in the new venture.
The Fox Cable spokesman declined to comment on any possible changes, and insiders at the company were similarly mum.
However, Fox already collaborates with outside parties on its National Geographic Channel and Fox Sports En Espanol services. So bringing in a partner for a new channel would not be a stretch.
Since such a relaunch could take some time, there’s a possibility the Fox cable group could continue to program FRC with series and specials already in its library even after March 31. It’s also possible the new brand could debut before that date.
FRC has never been a ratings giant for Fox Cable Networks. Launched in May 2005 as a reaction to the primetime network reality boom, it quickly found itself competing with a host of networks — from A&E to TLC — who weren’t in the traditional reality game at the time FRC was conceived.
Nonetheless, the channel has been a moneymaker for Fox Cable Networks, since it’s provided a way for News Corp. to monetize library repeats of old reality shows which would otherwise not have much, if any, backend.
So why switch gears? Because while FRC may make money, a new venture could make a whole lot more.
On the original programming front, FRC’s best-known productions have included "Solitary," "The Academy," "American Idol Extra," "The Search for the Next Elvira," "Gimme My Reality Show!" and "Reality Remix." FRC also teamed up with MyNetwork TV for a revival of the cult favorite "Paradise Hotel."
Library shows on FRC have included "The Amazing Race," "Beauty and the Geek" and "Outback Jack."
UPDATE 7:05 P.M. CDT : In an interview with TheWrap, Lyle confirmed that he’s talking to his bosses about staying on.
"If something worthwhile is about, I’d love to stay here," Lyle said. "I love the culture. But one needs to look around."
Lyle also confirmed that FRC had undergone a top-to-bottom brand review that led to today’s decision.
"When you open the door to change, you can never be sure what will come through it," he said, adding that as "a general entertainment brand in 50 million homes," FRC was "vulnerable."
Lyle said there were talks about making "creeping" changes to the FRC brand, perhaps by focusing on one segment of the unscripted genre.
But in the end, "We’ve come to realize that reality isn’t really a niche," he explained. It’s a production method. Not everyone likes every sort of reality program. You can’t do a comedy channel and call it ‘Three-Camera Comedy’."
Lyle hinted that News Corp.’s new direction for the channel now called FRC will be more specific. While he said he’s "aware of why and how this change is being made," he wouldn’t offer details of the new service.
"I’m proud of what we got on air and how we got it on air," Lyle told TheWrap. "We got on air in like three or four months. And I’m also proud of the financials.. We weren’t supposed to be in profit until 2013. We got there in 2007. And EBITDA grew at 40 percent."
Lyle also said he was grateful for the chance to have been part of the birth and growth of a new cable service.
"There aren’t going to be many more opportunities like this in this fragmented universe," he said.