Upfront Navigator: Networks Buying More From Outside

May 22, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Warner Bros. Television is the top program supplier to the broadcast networks for the fourth consecutive season, selling 11 new series to four networks. Combined with its 15 returning network shows, the studio has a total of 26 series for the 2006-07 season.

The series tally does not include programming aired on Univision, Telemundo or MyNetworkTV, since series on those networks are developed in-house or purchased internationally, and are produced differently from the prime-time scripted programming that is sold to ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW.

It was an upfront season in which some networks were more likely than they were last year to buy shows from suppliers outside their own companies. It also was a season in which networks talked more about how to capitalize on programming delivered via cellphones, iPods and the Internet-and studios worked to make sure they are compensated for the content they own, however it’s delivered.

The trend toward buying shows from outside the corporate fold was in evidence at Fox Network. During the 2005-06 season, five of Fox’s six new scripted fall series were from 20th Century Fox or other Fox-owned suppliers; this year Fox bought four scripted series from its corporate cousins and three series from the outside, including two from Warner Bros.

“We like to think of ourselves as the second-most-important supplier to the vertically integrated companies,” said Warner Bros. Television President Peter Roth.

Despite his studio’s success, the trend toward buying from the outside did affect Warner Bros. TV through its own sister network, the debuting broadcaster The CW. Of The CW’s three scripted series pickups, one is from CBS Paramount (Warner Bros.’ partner in the new network) and two are from outside suppliers, including Sony Pictures Television, which is not related to any of the networks.

Sony can boast pickups at the five broadcast networks buying from outside suppliers this year, which is a major change in fortune from this point after upfronts last year, when the studio had only one series picked up.

“That’s slightly above what we expected,” said Steve Mosko, president of Sony Pictures TV.

As for new delivery platforms, figuring out how to split potential revenues from digital sales of programming is an ongoing process, said Gary Newman, co-president of 20th Century Fox Television. “It’s easy on in-house [series], but when it’s third-party, we’re jockeying a little bit,” he said.

For Sony, coming up with a solution is imperative since it has no broadcast outlet of its own for its programming.

“We’re working through it,” Mr. Mosko said. “We have good partnerships with these folks and we trust it will work out for both of us.”

But studio executives also echoed their network partners’ belief that the emphasis should be on coming up with series TV viewers want to watch.