U.S. Sellers Say L.A. Screenings Market is International TV’s 'Most Important Event'

6:00 AM PST 05/15/2014 by Alex Ben Block , Scott Roxborough
CBS
"Under the Dome"

The annual gathering of around 1,500 buyers who view new American TV shows results in licensing deals that cover from 20 percent to more than half the cost of a show's production.

It's a major event for international television that brings about 1,500 buyers and sellers to Southern California from all over the world to screen new American TV shows but the L.A. Screenings remain nearly invisible to most of Hollywood -- except those who know how important these sales are to the economic vitality of television.

The L.A. Screenings actually began earlier this week with activity by Latin American and Independent buyers and sellers; but beginning Thursday the American majors start putting on their shows, screenings and a handful of parties. Some events will include appearances by stars and show creators from the new crop of programs on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, The CW and cable outlets, all of which were announced in New York at the upfront presentations for American advertisers.

"This is a very important event," says Armando Nunez, president/CEO of the CBS Global Distribution Group. "This is our version of the upfronts."

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"It’s the unveiling of the new television season and obviously that is something unique and particularly exciting to buyers," says Keith LeGoy,   executive vp of distribution for Sony Pictures Television International. "This is a very focused time when buyers with heightened expectation come to see the unveiling of the new television season."

Nunez, who has been involved in international TV for more than three decades, recalls a time when the L.A. Screenings (originally known as the May Screenings) meant little more than some extra revenue. Today international TV sales, according to a number of sources, represent from 20 percent to more than half the cost of American TV programming.

"We as a corporation have a lot of money invested in this process," adds Nunez, "and obviously with the importance now of international distribution what happens over this week-and-a-half is an important part of the overall financial model by which content gets made... While MIPCOM and MIP and others are important, this is the most important event of the year for international television."

It is a great time because there's strong interest in American programming. While many big foreign broadcasters still use local productions for key primetime slots, there is an ever-expanding number of platforms and outlets -- cable, satellite, pay-per-view, subscription, streaming channels and digital platforms – that hunger for high quality American programming.

"There is a resurgence again of American television in overseas markets," says veteran Wall St. analyst and author Harold Vogel. "They are usually made better, offer interesting stories and have bigger stars."

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According to the annual report Copyright Industries in the U.S. Economy prepared by Stephen Siwek for the International Intellectual Property Alliance in Washington, D.C. sales of American TV and movies (after the theatrical run) were almost $25 billion in 2012 (the most recent year for which figures are available).

"The creative industries continue to outpace the rest of the economy in real growth," writes Siwek in the report. "The copyright industries also continue to employ millions of workers whose average compensation levels substantially exceed the average level of compensation paid to all U.S. workers."

This year's L.A. Screenings will also benefit from improving economy's around the globe, predicts Ben Pyne, president, global distribution, Disney Media Networks: "The economic indicators in pretty much all of the international markets are starting to point in a more positive direction. As these economy’s come back there is more demand for our content."

"What we’re seeing is that the television market is stronger than ever," says LeGoy, "and more global than ever."

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Sony, says LeGoy, had an advantage this year because half a dozen of its series were greenlit well in advance, so they did not have to wait until the Upfronts to prepare and start conversations with buyers.

"We have more certainty about the line-up of the productions we have to showcase at the screenings than we have ever had before," says LeGoy. "That is an incredibly fortunate and luxurious position to be in."

The Sony shows with direct to series orders are Battle Creek (CBS), Better Call Saul (AMC), KZK Untitled (Netflix), Outlander (Starz) and Powers (Sony PlayStation). In addition, Helix (SyFy) was also renewed in advance.

The deals are now much more complex because they often include things like TV Everywhere rights, VOD and other things tied to the use of digital apps.

"Our agreements used to be much shorter than they are today," says Pyne. "Any ancillary rights we grant as part of a license are just that, additional rights."

In term of what is most watched around the world, procedurals like CSI are the most watched, accounting for 34 percent of all fictional series worldwide. Second is drama, at 20 percent (increasing slightly from last year), followed by soap operas and telenovelas with 15 percent and comedy/sitcoms with 15 percent; adventure fantasy with 5 percent and action thrillers with 5 percent.  

Three new U.S. shows from last year’s upfronts have made major headway internationally. They are Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Under The Dome and The Blacklist.

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All three were hits in Canada, Spain and Australia and selected other territories. For instance, Under the Dome was a massive hit for M6 in France – the best series launch for the commercial network since Bones in 2007. It opened with 4.6 million viewers and stayed high, averaging 4.4 million viewers throughout the 13 episodes, accounting for a 18 percent overall share and 28 percent share of viewers under age 50.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D was the number one drama launch of the year for Britain's Channel 4, with the debut episode drawing an average 3.1 million viewers, or 14.2 percent of the viewing audience. It drew the largest share of 16-34 year-olds (a key ad demo in the U.K.) with a 27 percent share. It did fall off in subsequent airings.

Under The Dome on Channel 5 in the U.K., opened to two million viewers in a 10 pm slot, an 11.8 percent share.  

BSkyB, who airs The Blacklist in the U.K., said the show was the highest-rated series premiere in 20 years on its Sky Living channel. The Blacklist also started strong on Germany’s RTL, with a decent 3.98 million viewers for the premiere - 18.4 percent of the key 14-49 demo. Ratings have been down and up since.

Nunez says that it was a challenge last year to explain the limited episode, event nature of Under The Dome, but now that it has worked he expects it to help propel sales of this summer’s event series Extant.

For buyers and marketing executives who can’t make it to L.A., CBS will follow up during the last week of May with separate presentations in London, Munich, Prague and Tokyo.

Canada is a special situation, says Pyne. "They make all their decisions almost before the week begins. Our Canadian partners like CTV and City need to lock in their schedules in order to black out the U.S.  programming because it bleeds into Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal."

Other buyers will view shows in L.A. but then go home to discuss what they have seen before making a decision on what to buy. But for almost all, it is what happens in L.A. that sets the tone.

"There’s great excitement and growing interest  in the L.A. Screenings," says Pyne. "Once the networks make their decisions it creates a frenzy, an interest, a froth of buyers wanting to see them as soon as possible so they know what shows might be available to them for the fall. That’s what makes the L.A. Screenings so special."

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