Slow global economies and a logjam of exported programming created a downtrodden international market at the beginning of the decade, but a three-year uptick is expected to continue, led by brisk sales at NATPE for program exporters.
That positive swing hasot gone unnoticed by television industry heavyweights, who are seeing bigger deals every year.
“I used to come to NATPE for domestic shows,” said one agent attending the event. “Now I’m there for the international deals. That’s the way the market is moving.”
Led by contingents from Latin America, Asia and, to a lesser extent, Europe, the National Association of Television Programming Executives will be the first market of the year for program buyers when checkbooks are full to obtain formats and programming. Analysts project 2007 sales of U.S. programs overseas to near $3 billion, well ahead of estimated 2006 numbers. Distributors from other countries are expected to show similar positive momentum as well.
That’s good news for sellers, who are already packing meetings throughout the three-day conference.
“A little over three years ago, sales were down across the board for every distributor,” said Sheila Aguirre, VP Sales and Development, Latin America & Hispanic USA at FremantleMedia Enterprises. “Now that the economy has picked up, programmers are once again taking risks, and we are seeing deals move forward again.”
At stake for international distributors will be format deals for series as well as straight-up international sales of existing series. Programs in all genres, including drama, comedy and unscripted, have struck gold in both types of deals with U.S. companies serving as both buyer and seller.
“It used to be a one-way world with American companies supplying all the content. Now the U.S. is doing almost as much importing as exporting,” said NATPE President Rick Feldman.
Clearly the bigger money on the floor is in selling series “as is” to international outlets, whereas format deals provide a fraction of the funds and can have poorer production values.
“Economically the real money is in selling finished shows to broadcasters. For us, first and foremost, we don’t want to see the sale of a format versus a finished show” said Jeffrey Schlesinger, president of Warner Bros. International Television. “In addition, many of these countries wouldn’t be able to format some of these shows because they have not developed a real infrastructure of producers, writers and talent to provide a quality series.”
His company licenses some 50,000 hours of programming (including more than 6,000 features and 60 current series), dubbed or subtitled in more than 40 languages, to telecasters and cablecasters in more than 175 countries. Among the series the company will be working on, particularly in renewals, will be “ER,” “Cold Case” and “Nip/Tuck.” The company is, however, formatting series such as “Full House” to countries such as Russia and is looking into doing the same for procedural dramas.
Among the new series expected to make a strong play in sales overseas at NATPE will be “Heroes,” handled by NBC Universal International Television Distribution. The hit drama has already been sold to countries ranging from Malaysia and Hong Kong to France and Australia. In the United Kingdom, the series has already been sold to both the Sci-Fi Channel as well as the BBC2. Executives expect to clean up many of the remaining territories at the market and will hold an event with the cast for overseas buyers at NATPE.
Format deals, on the other hand, will continue to grow at the market in part because of the ability to localize the series as well as the lower cost of acquisition for buyers.
“The benefit of formats is that they answer the need for domestic relevance that had been missing for so many years,” said Nadine Nohr, managing director at Granada International. “Formatting is a tried and tested formula that in a key market can be adapted for local application with the production expertise of the original producers.”
For FremantleMedia, which has already struck international gold formatting “American Idol” both to the U.S. and abroad, Latin American buyers will remain key to the NATPE agenda. Already formatting of some of their unscripted shows to the territory has moved some of the beloved telenovelas off primetime. One series expected to make a play in the markets will be “The X Factor” and the company recently reached a deal to format “Three’s Company” to Roos Film, which will produce 50 episodes to air on Megavision in Chile. In Ecuador, Ecuavision has commissioned 39 episodes which they will produce and acquired 70 episodes of the original series for broadcast as well.
“In Latin American terrestrial outlets, formats have undergone a big boom,” said Ms. Aguirre. “Some of these have gone into time periods that have traditionally gone to telenovelas because of their popularity. In addition, it does not cost so much to produce. We expect this trend to continue to explode and I look forward to meeting as many people as I can at NATPE.”