NBC Uni increases int'l clout

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NBC Universal took another step in its international expansion Wednesday, announcing the acquisition of veteran U.K. production company Carnival Film & Television, the producer of such glossy drama series as "Hotel Babylon" and "Harley Street." The deal is reputed to be worth about £30 million ($56 million).

The move is the first acquisition by NBC's London division and represents the latest step in NBC Uni's goal to more than double non-U.S. revenue by 2010.

The deal gives NBC new hands to play in the international marketplace.

First, it provides the company with a U.K. production headquarters. Networks have increasingly tapped the British acting pool and are looking for inexpensive overseas locations to reduce production costs.

"It's absolutely an aspect of the idea; the cost for shooting outside the U.S. can be considerably less and you can get high production value and find tremendous talent," NBC Universal International production president Angela Bromstad said.

Second, U.S. networks are increasingly ordering scripted formats that have been pre-tested in foreign markets, particularly in the U.K. The deal gives NBC access to exploit Carnival's 400-hour library and current development slate for distribution and any creative offshoots.

Plus, having an increased presence and resources in the U.K. could assist NBC in its efforts to find overseas co-production partners for expensive shows, like the midseason-planned "The Philanthropist."

"The big trend in conversations in the U.S. right now is the idea of co-commissioning," Bromstad said. "For the right project it would make sense because every market is facing the same thing the U.S. is facing."

Under the deal to acquire Carnival, NBC will buy out the 75% of the company owned by Australian producer Southern Star as well as the 25% of CEO Gareth Neame.

Neame will remain with the company and work with Bromstad to explore expansion opportunities.

NBC is developing the hit "Law & Order" franchise for a new British version for ITV and is expected to develop Carnival's formats for the U.K. and international markets.

NBC Universal International president Pete Smith said he was keen to looking at further production acquisitions in the U.K. but added that NBC Uni had no ambitions to acquire the ailing ITV.

"I suspect we will do more in the U.K. and we will want to expand the business," he said, citing comedy and reality as potential genres to target.

Other content from the 30-year-old Carnival includes "Traffik" and "The Grid." The company has received more than 70 national and international awards and nominations.

Mimi Turner reported from London; James Hibberd reported from Los Angeles.
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