Warners Int'l TV goes globe trotting

Sets up production units around the world

Get ready for "The Mentalist" in Sweden, "Cold Case" in Italy or "There Goes the Neighborhood" in Germany.

Warner Bros.' international TV arm is setting up production units in key territories around the world to cookie-cut locally produced versions of shows owned by the studio and to develop original local series.

To oversee the newly formed unit, Warner Bros. International TV Distribution has tapped Ronald Goes as executive vp and head of international television production.

The move follows similar well-established local TV production operations in various foreign territories undertaken by the other Hollywood majors, the most long-running and widespread efforts being those of Sony and Fox.

"It is our ambition to become a leading producer of scripted and nonscripted programming locally, to complement the top-quality finished programming that we distribute internationally," WBITD president Jeffrey Schlesinger said.

The Warner chieftain said this is "a particularly opportune" moment to jump into the local production fray. Valuations of key indie producers abroad -- think outfits like Metronome, Carnival, All3Media and Southern Star -- have all, because of the recession, likely come down considerably in the past 18 months.

Schlesinger would not be drawn on specific potential partners or acquisition targets but said Warners would "build, buy and partner" its way quickly into this arena.

"Despite the economic slowdown and the short-term challenges that it has created for independent production, we plan to invest today for long-term rewards," Schlesinger told THR. "The combination of the resources and creativity already existing at the studio and the talent that we expect to attract to work with us internationally will enable us to build a significant production business in a number of countries and add complementary programming and formats to our catalog for worldwide distribution."

Warners is arguably the largest distributor of content among the majors, raking in upward of $2 billion a year from its sales of finished shows and movies to TV outlets around the world.

Formats of reality series owned by the studio will likely kick-start the venture, with dramas and sitcoms not far behind. (On an ad hoc basis, Warners has licensed a localized "Without a Trace" drama for France's TF1 as well as various localized iterations of "The Bachelor.") The new unit is a more systematic and ambitious effort both to parlay existing Warners properties and be in business with key foreign producers on new material of theirs that might travel beyond one territory.

For several years now, Warners has been actively involved in localized production abroad on the feature film side, especially in France and Germany, and apparently Time Warner corporate brass felt this is a good time to extend the initiative to TV.

Still, localized production is a time-intensive business that takes considerable investment before payoff. While no figures were available, two outsiders who have had dealings with other Hollywood studios in this area reckoned "$50 million to $100 million" will be spent by Warners in the first couple of years to rev up the venture.

Relocating from his native Netherlands, Goes will be based in London for WBITD and report to Schlesinger. He will be responsible for conceptualizing and executing the international TV production strategy, including setting up production shops in key territories by partnering with local producers; acquiring existing companies; or building new ones by hiring local talent and providing funding.

He also will be charged with exploiting the studio's scripted and nonscripted shows through local versions, identifying and acquiring international formats for acquisition by WBITD to produce for the international marketplace and for Warner Bros. Television, Warner Horizon or Telepictures to develop in the U.S.

Goes will be hiring a team in the U.K., Burbank and selected international territories to execute both the business and creative aspects of the operation.

"Ronald brings a great depth of knowledge, experience and numerous personal relationships, which should enable us to launch this business quickly and effectively," Schlesinger said, adding that he had been on the lookout for an executive with such varied skills for more than a year.

Goes comes to WBITD with 20 years of production, operational, financial and board membership experience at European media companies. Most recently, he was a member of the supervisory board of RTL in Holland after having been CEO of Talpa Media, the Dutch holding company of John de Mol. At Talpa, Goes was responsible for all media activities as well as new business development.

Before Talpa, Goes served four years as CEO and a member of the executive board of directors of Endemol. There, he was responsible for all worldwide operations; before Endemol, Goes was with SBS Broadcasting for five years with responsibility for finance, technical affairs, all staff departments and sports. He began his career as an auditor at the accounting firm then known as Coopers & Lybrand.
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