NATPE’s international visitors cast a wide net

Dec 31, 2001  •  Post A Comment

It’s becoming difficult to determine the nationality of some companies on the floor at the National Association of Television Program Executives conference, particularly those with involvement in Western Europe. Some American-born TV executives are setting up shop on European turf, and European companies have deepened their overseas roots in ways that make them as at home in Los Angeles as they are in Paris or London.
Take the case of two NATPE exhibitors with roots on either side of the Atlantic. Gullane Entertainment is based in London and is traded on the London Stock Exchange, but it has major offices in Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo and Toronto. Then there’s Global Media Television, which is headquartered in London but was formed by two American television executives with the idea of producing programming outside the United States.
Global Media’s launch was announced last October by its two partners, Cathy Malatesta, formerly a senior VP of Warner Bros. International Television Production, and Anthony Scotti, formerly chairman and CEO of All American Communications, a production and distribution company that was acquired by Pearson Plc. in 1997.
Ms. Malatesta, who scored a deal to bring Warner Bros.’ entire international TV production slate with her when she left the company, said Global Media is capitalizing on a new dynamic in European television. And she notes that there are similarities between the European trend and what happened in the United States when Sony Corp. largely shut down domestic U.S. TV sitcom and drama production and Fox shut down long-form development because the business models no longer made sense. “In Europe, the way the independent production sector has worked for some time is the local network has paid 90 [percent] to 100 percent of the budget. They’ve never had to seek production or deficit financing,” Ms. Malatesta said. That’s no longer the case. “Now, [independents] are looking around America and Europe to find a [finance] partner that’s complementary.”
Sony’s Columbia TriStar International Television unit is taking advantage of that situation as well, despite Columbia’s production retreat in the United States. It developed and produced a British teen dramedy series, “As If,” with Carnival Films for the United Kingdom’s Channel 4. That program is now securing distribution deals around the world, including the United States. In 2001, CTIT produced around 6,000 hours of local programming specifically for European, Asian, Latin American and Hindu audiences.
That kind of multinationalism is in evidence at Gullane, home of such programming as “Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.” Gullane President Charles Falzon said, “We are as much an English company as we are an American company.”
Mr. Falzon said he sees a big change in the circumstances for Gullane’s specialty: family entertainment. “There’s been a glut of product in the market over the last few years. But we find that programming of quality rises to the top. There’s a demand for special programming that is distinctive and has a purpose.”
That perspective is shared by Sophie Turner Laing, the BBC’s head of program acquisitions. “We don’t have particular time slots we need to fill with acquisitions. So at NATPE we can sit back and not buy if there’s nothing that grabs us,” said Ms. Turner Laing, who handles drama series and theatrical film purchases for the BBC.
Clearly some of Europe’s own smaller network enterprises are mining opportunities at NATPE. While the Franco-American heavyweight Vivendi Universal found it strategic to form an agreement to acquire a stake in the American direct broadcast satellite platform EchoStar Communications to gain channel distribution, Italy’s relatively low-profile Sitcom SpA has its own designs on U.S. platform deals, albeit not equity agreements.
“My primary task at NATPE will be to meet with all the representatives of platform operators-cable and satellite,” said Marco Frazier, director of international development at Sitcom, which has five channels in operation, including its cornerstone cooking and home network Alice (named after “Alice in Wonderland”).
Sitcom isn’t the only non-English-language programming company that expects to make headway at the show. “This will be the third time that we’ve come to NATPE,” said Ms. Helen Auroe, who is area sales manager of Denmark’s DR TV network. “We see it as very important if we want to get into America and Canada.”