European TV producers carve a back end

International small-screen biz finds an aftermarket

In the U.S. TV market, the tail wags the dog. Reruns of hit shows, both domestically and internationally, provide the payoff for producers, distributors and talent. But in Europe the aftermarket for even the most popular local shows is still quite limited.

With a hodgepodge of local languages making cross-border appeal more difficult, and with no extensive local station grid in each country to rely on for syndicated repeats (and only spotty attempts by webs to nurture long-running series), continental producers and broadcasters -- who are often one and the same entity -- have had to be creative when it comes to wagging the tail -- or even finding it.

While no European series has ever raked in the stunning returns of American mega-franchises like "CSI" or "Law & Order," there are notable success stories in the region when it comes to parlaying a local smash across multiple platforms and through various ancillaries.

-- Elizabeth Guider


United Kingdom

A 50-year-old soap about working-class life in the north of England seems an unlikely subject for a video game on the Nintendo DS, clothing lines at Top Shop, or VOD downloads on Amazon.

But in recent years ITV's global distribution arm has been looking at ways of breathing new life into "Coronation Street," the U.K.'s top-rated primetime drama.

Known as "Corrie," the show is produced by ITV Prods. and airs thrice weekly, averaging 10 million viewers per episode on the country's top commercial broadcaster.

Although the producer won't disclose figures, the show is said to cost £100,000 ($167,000) per half-hour episode.

All told, some put the show's first-run domestic contribution to ITV's profit at £100 million ($167 million) a year. But the healthy cash flow hasn't stopped ITV Global from looking at a matrix of opportunities to monetize "Corrie's" back end both at home and abroad.

Program sales have always been a big part of the show's ancillary contribution to Granada -- now ITV Production -- and the bottom line. With 7,000 episodes in the can, "Corrie" now airs in 60 countries including Canada, Australia, Holland and the Middle East, while plans for selling the show as a scripted format also are in the works.

Straight-to-DVD movie spinoffs have also been produced in recent years, with this year's "Romanian Holiday" due in stores at Christmas.

The "Coronation Street"/Mindscape adventure game is set to debut on the Nintendo DS in the fourth quarter and, for those viewers of a more traditional bent, the "Destination: Coronation Street" board game is a new way to relax.

"There's a lot of affection for the show and its characters at home and abroad," says Tobi de Graaff, director of ITV Global. "For a long-running series people are drawn to humor, warmth and down-to-earth characterizations."

-- Mimi Turner


Germany

When "Galileo" premiered on Pro7, the idea of a daily science magazine program was a bold experiment. Eleven years in, the show has been a marketing juggernaut for parent company ProSiebenSat.1.

Merchandising arm MM Merchandising Media taps viewers' inner science geek with DVD boxed sets and a best-selling series of science-tainment books on such topics as natural disasters and global warming. There also are "Galileo" PC and console games, audiobooks, a boardgame and even a science kit for junior inventors.

In the mobile world, "Galileo" does brisk business in "brain-trainer" games for phones and handsets, at $6 a pop.

A spinoff show, "Galileo Mystery," dips into the pseudo-science of conspiracy theory and the supernatural and has opened up even more opportunities for Pro7, including a series of Dan Brown-esque fantasy novels, published by Ullstein Taschenbuch.

Pro7 is tight-lipped on the cost of the show but with 2,600 hourlong episodes in the can, economics of scale are paying obvious dividends. Sales division SevenOne International has sold the "Galileo" format to broadcasters in 10 territories, including TMC in France, Kanal 9 in Sweden and CCTV in China.

-- Scott Roxborough


France

Life is sweet for France's first soap opera sensation "Life is So Sweet," which has aired every weekday on pubcaster France 3 since 2004. The daily sudser continues to give France 3 its highest ratings, attracting more than 13 million people at least once a week, repping nearly a fifth of the entire population.

The half-hour follows several characters in working-class Marseille, the country's second-largest city. It's the first blockbuster soap opera to hit the French small screen in decades. While French viewers traditionally preferred the 90-minute format later in the evening, in the primetime 8:50 p.m. slot, audiences are responding to the shorter, 26-minute nightly format.

"Sweet" focuses on everyday life in a very unglamorous French province that touches upon a growing trend in Gaul, namely that French TV producers are unafraid to show their country from an unflattering angle.

But since French national TV went completely ad-free in January, it will need to bring in revenue from its non-broadcasting ventures, namely its Web sites, DVD sales, downloadable VOD reairings, mail order clothing, comic books, house products, an official store devoted to the show in Marseille and even "Sweet" tours in Marseille.

Produced by Gallic shingle Telfrance, the show has an annual budget of $40 million. "Sweet" also makes money from cross-border sales to Belgium, Georgia, Bosnia, Serbia, Tunisia, Finland and Italy, but the Marseille-centric format has yet to be sold to international territories for local remakes.

-- Rebecca Leffler


Italy

A cross between a high-stakes talent show and "Big Brother," "Amici di Maria de Filippi" is one of the most-popular programs on Mediaset. The show involves a group of 20 youngsters between the ages of 18 and 25 who live together, receive mentoring and compete to become singers, dancers or actors. In this year's ninth edition, the winner takes home a $430,000 prize and is given a one-year contract working for Mediaset.

The marketing of the program takes full advantage of all the Mediaset synergies: the most-popular talents appear on other Mediaset shows, and the top musical numbers are made into a best-selling CD that features liner notes written by such established figures as pop-opera singer Andrea Bocelli or Neapolitan crooner Gigi D'Alessio. This year's edition also will be made into a game for Nintendo's Wii and DS.

-- Eric Lyman


Scandinavia

Sweden's Yellow Bird Films has sidestepped the biggest obstacle for high-end TV drama in Scandinavia -- the tiny local audience -- by creating a production and franchising model for its hit crime series "Wallander."

The new 13-episode season, based on the novels by Henning Mankell, will cost $28 million, or about $3 for each of Sweden's 9 million residents. To finance it, Yellow Bird has brought on partners from Germany (ARD) and France (Canal Plus) and has produced the season premiere as a feature-length film for theatrical and DVD distribution ahead of broadcast.

Yellow Bird has gone further, franchising Mankell's story lines and co-producing such local-language versions as the BBC's BAFTA-winning adaptation starring Kenneth Branagh (which pulled in

6 million viewers a show) and a series of TV movies based on Mankell's books which Bavaria and ARD are backing and which Yellow Bird's new Munich production office will co-produce. A French-language take on dour Stockholm detective Kurt Wallander is in the works.

The setup allows Yellow Bird to pick up license fees from various national broadcasters as well as taking a cut of back-end DVD revenue. It also has a healthy sideline in merchandising -- mainly series-branded novels and audiobooks.

Far from cannibalizing its original show, the spinoffs have fed the Euro appetite for Wallander and Mankell. The BBC's "Wallander" took an impressive 15% market share on ARD, in part thanks to the success of the original Swedish show on fellow pubcaster ZDF.

-- Scott Roxborough


Russia

Back in 2003, the creators of the Russian cartoon series "Smeshariki" chose an unlikely premise: unlike the conventional good vs. evil format of most kids' shows, each of "Smeshariki's" main characters is unambiguously a goody.

Aimed at 3- to 8-year-old kids and spiked with humor, the series focuses less on confrontation than unexpected situations, with stylized round animals intended to be easy to draw for children.

The quirky approach proved a success. With an original investment of $1 million and Flash animation as the technological choice, the first six-minute episodes became a hit on the country's Channel 1 in summer 2004.

Revenue from the "Smeshariki" brand -- including books and merchandising of the characters -- stood at $170 million in 2008, up from $100 million a year before, but the company won't disclose its profits.

It has been licensed to a dozen countries, airing on the CW under the title "GoGoRiki" in the U.S and in Germany, where it was launched as "Kikoriki" on channel KI.KA.

-- Vladimir Kozlov
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