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Tough Economy Hits ‘Doctor Who,’ Splitting Season 7

Show will return, but not with 14 episodes in 2012

The massive budget cuts taking place across the British Broadcasting Corp. is apparently now taking its toll on “Doctor Who.”

Already produced on a smaller budget and with a star who makes far less than his predecessor, “Doctor Who” was able to avoid major attention in rounds of cuts in 2010. But this time, it’s costing the show the 14-episode order in 2012 that news outlets like Airlock Alpha previously reported.

Instead, the episodes will likely get produced, but over a two-year span, taking it right into the 50th anniversary of the series.

BBC ONe controller Danny Cohen reportedly told attendees of a Church and Media Conference in England that despite recent reports, “Doctor Who” would not be back for a full season in 2012. While that first led some to believe that the show wouldn’t be on at all next year, BBC reporter Lizo Mzimba later confirmed that some episodes of the order will air on 2012, while the rest will take place in 2013 — possibly as specials celebrating the show’s golden anniversary.

“Don’t know how many 2012 [episodes] or what time of year they’ll be broadcast,” Mzimba said via Twitter. “No further details about what more’s happening in 2013 yet. But it’s the 50th anniversary, so of course there will be some great stuff.”

The move isn’t exactly surprising. Despite “Doctor Who’s” international appeal, the economy is bad worldwide, and cuts are being made. Hundreds of people are losing their jobs at BBC, mostly in the online and radio departments following an agreement to freeze license fees paid for by British citizens for the next six years. On top of that, commercial revenue from international sales in the form of rebroadcast rights and DVD sales are down steeply because of the economy.

“Doctor Who” once had a stable license fee in the United States to air “Doctor Who” episodes from the cable channel that would later become Syfy. However, once Syfy decided not to renew the deal, BBC moved it over to its own cable channel, BBC America. The cable channel can collect all advertising revenue, but because BBCA is typically on a higher-tier cable level — meaning many customers have to pay extra to receive it — it doesn’t have the same potential audience and market penetration as a lower-tiered cable channel like Syfy.

On top of that, it’s a tough market for DVDs, as many people still aren’t making enough money to commit to such discretionary spending. Also, the rise of streaming services like Netflix (where “Doctor Who” is available up until the current season) have changed that market landscape quite a bit as well.

BBC has been feeling the pinch, even before this, affecting other “Doctor Who” universe shows. “Torchwood” pulled a strong audience, but its cost made it difficult to maintain on BBC. The entertainment division opted for a shortened third season (with some reports of hopes to wrap up the show), but the strong viewership and critical acclaim of that mini-season, “Children of Earth,” had fans clamoring for more.

BBC ended up striking a deal with American premium cable channel Starz to produce a fourth season, which is now set to premiere next month after an absence of nearly two years.

Will “Doctor Who” die? Likely not. The economy woes are expected to be on the rebound in the near future, and with that will come greater international revenue in terms of advertising and DVD sales. That will help boost shows like “Doctor Who,” even if licensing fees in its home country remain flat.

“Doctor Who” recently earned six 2011 Portal Award nominations, including nods for Best Actor for Matt Smith, Best Actress for Karen Gillan, and Best Series. It won in two of three of those categories last year.

The second half of Season 6 will return to BBC and BBC America in the fall.

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