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U.S. Series Star in Cannes

Despite economic worries, sales of upcoming network fare are still strong 10/10/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Demand for U.S. TV shows remained buoyant
at this year’s MIPCOM, with distributors reporting
impressive sales for a number of upcoming
U.S. network midseason shows and a number
of newer players opening their wallets.

Viasat Broadcasting, for example, entered
into its first distribution cofi nancing venture
with Entertainment One. That deal give Viasat
rights in 10 territories to The Firm, which
will air on NBC in midseason and has been
sold to Global in Canada and Sony’s AXN
networks, which plans to schedule it in more
than 125 countries.

Streaming video services were also active,
with Netflix acquiring rights for the U.S.,
Canada and Latin America to premiere the first
season of Lilyhammer, a drama starring Steven
van Zandt that is being produced in Norway,
Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix,
said during a MIPCOM panel.

The deal was part of Netflix’s plan to expand
its international acquisitions of both original
and existing TV fare, Sarandos said.

Disney Media Networks cochair and Disney-
ABC Television president Anne Sweeney
reported that the upcoming ABC midseason
drama Missing sold in more than 80 territories.

During a keynote address at MIPCOM, where
she received the MIPCOM 2011 Personality of
the Year, Sweeney stressed the growing importance
of digital distribution in the company’s
international sales efforts and noted that their
London team has launched a VOD platform,
ABC TV On Demand, which offers full seasons
of such shows as Grey’s Anatomy.

Such deals are hugely important for both
the U.S. studios and networks and international
buyers. U.S. studios rely heavily on
international markets to help them cover rising
budgets and deficits, with some dramas
pulling in more than $2 million an episode in
international sales, more than they are getting
from the U.S. network license fees.

At the same time, the bigger budgets
funded by international markets have helped
boost the popularity of U.S. programming.
CSI, for example, attracted some 65.3 million
viewers worldwide in 2010, according to the
Eurodata TV research firm.

“U.S. programming is important in the
present and will remain important in the future,”
Gerhard Zeiler, CEO of the RTL Group,
which has 41 TV channels in 10 markets, told
B&C prior to MIPCOM.

But acquiring the next big hit can be risky.
Some widely sold new shows for the 2011-12
season—such as Prime Suspect, which has
been sold to 30-plus markets around the
world—are struggling in the ratings.

The Eurozone crisis and economic woes in
some key countries, such as Spain and Italy,
also raised worries that another global recession
could hurt international broadcasters.

But that may not be such bad news for the
international sales that are so important for
funding U.S. network fare. U.S. dramas can
generally be acquired for much less than the
cost of producing a local show, which can
rarely match the production values of an
American series. During the last recession,
the U.S. studios actually saw their international
television sales increase, and a similar
dynamic could boost sales if the TV industry
faces another downturn.

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