In L.A., the World Watches, and BuysStrong demand at Screenings good sign for funding of new network shows 5/28/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern
As network sales executives grappled with advertisers
in New York last week to set upfront pricing, also important
conversations about the funding of U.S. network programs were
being had during the L.A. Screenings, where more than 1,500 international
buyers gathered for a first look at the 2012-13 broadcast series.
What happens at the L.A. Screenings,
which ran May 15-25, has become critical
for the overall health of the U.S. TV industry
because of the growing importance of
international sales in financing new programs.
International sales for new U.S.
dramas often exceed the license fees paid
by the stateside networks for new shows.
“It is very expensive to produce for network
television, and the cost of production
is just getting higher,” says Marion
Edwards, president of international television
at Twentieth Century Fox Television
Distribution. “It would be impossible
to contemplate [these] productions
without international markets.”
With so much on the line, much of the
news from this year’s Screenings was good,
with studio executives reporting that demand
for U.S. shows remains stronger than
ever, and attendance hitting record levels.
“The L.A. Screenings is the first impactful opportunity where broadcasters
across the globe really get the first bite of the apple of the new shows
coming out of Hollywood, and it is a bite they are taking with increasing
hunger,” says Keith LeGoy, president of international distribution, Sony
Pictures Television. “Demand for U.S. shows has never been higher.”
"There is very high demand for our shows around the world," due,
in part, to the star power and high production values of U.S. network
fare, adds Ben Pyne, president, global distribution, Disney Media Networks.
“We bring a feature-film quality to TV.”
But as studio executives rolled out the red carpet for happy, hungry
international buyers, with glitzy screenings and appearances by top
talent, there were still some worrying trends. This was the second
year in a row that the U.S. networks were focused on commissioning
comedies, which tend not to perform strongly in international markets,
and many of last year’s high-profile dramas were quickly cancelled.
Meanwhile, the ongoing Euro Crisis has been battering Western Europe,
which remains the most important region for international sales.
Still, studio executives stress that they have seen strong demand for
their shows since the start of the economic downturn in 2008, in part
because their big-budget dramas cost less to license than expensive
“The economic situation since 2008 has been challenging and the
Euro Crisis adds another layer on top of that, but we have still been
able to do well with our shows,” says Belinda Menendez, president,
NBCUniversal International Television
Distribution and Universal Networks
International, which saw strong interest
in the new Dick Wolf drama, Chicago
Fire, during the Screenings.
Menendez reports strong attendance
at her group’s screenings and notes that
three of their returning shows have been
sold in more than 50 territories worldwide.
“We’re very optimistic about demand
for American product,” she says.
Edwards and others also stress that
comedies are currently performing better
in international markets and that
there are also a number of newer outlets
for their fare.
Sony, Disney and other U.S. studios
are increasingly remaking local versions
of popular U.S. sitcoms in international
markets. The studios are reporting growing
demand for their product from new over-the-top services that are
being launched by Netflix, Amazon and others in international markets.
To capitalize on that demand, a number of studios have been launching
their own subscription VOD (SVOD) services. Disney has inked 12 deals
for its SVOD product, Hot From the U.S., which provides access to shows
24 to 48 hours after they air in the States. The company has concluded
several European deals for its ABC TV On Demand, which provides access
to shows after their local broadcast markets, Pyne reports.
The studios are also working harder to raise the profile of their
shows with international launches closely timed to the U.S. premiere.
Disney has been working in that direction for a number of years.
In late March, Twentieth launched Touch in more than 100 territories.
That effort included a global buy from Unilever and a high-profile
international media tour by series star Kiefer Sutherland.
“It is difficult to do that with every show, but it is becoming a model
because it reduces piracy and creates a kind of big event everyone
wants to have,” Edwards says.