WB shifts gears in Germany

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Warner Bros. is changing dance partners in Germany, inking a multiyear agreement with top broadcaster RTL for German TV rights to more than 200 movies and TV series from the Hollywood studio.

Despite the global recession, the price tag for the deal could be as much as $100 million a year if all performance criteria are met. Most such deals these days are for three years.

Germany is one of the three most lucrative markets for U.S. product outside North America, and though local shows tend to dominate the German airwaves, American dramas and blockbuster movies rate highly in primetime — and, hence, command good prices.

WBITD recently teamed with RTL's main commercial rival in the territory, ProSiebenSat.1, but will switch to RTL next year.

The huge package includes rights to all Warner Bros. film titles available to free TV beginning in 2010, including the two-part "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," which will close the blockbuster fantasy franchise, and any Batman, Superman and Green Hornet movies that get produced.

RTL also will control Teutonic rights to all new WBITD series beginning with the 2010-11 season — which, given their contracts with the studio, should include shows from the Jerry Bruckheimer stable as well as product from J.J. Abrams, John Wells and Chuck Lorre.

"The deal is an indication that in tough economic times, American product is, on a cost basis, a really good value for foreign broadcasters," WBITD president Jeffrey Schlesinger said. He did not confirm the price tag but added that Warners "did not drop its price," and that, whatever the deflationary pressures in the marketplace, revenue from the deal will be "stronger than in our last deal in the territory."

Library titles in the deal include "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "Ocean's Eleven," "Rush Hour 2" and "Blade 2."

RTL can build new shows from Warners on its family of channels, including RTL 2 and Vox, before perhaps moving them to its flagship, RTL1. The broadcaster has ongoing deals with Universal ("House" and "Monk") and CBS Paramount International TV (the "CSI" franchise). The other majors have deals with ProSieben.

Warner Bros.' international TV business, including deals for free and pay TV, is estimated to fill the studio's coffers with more than $2 billion a year. The six MPA companies collectively haul in about $7.5 billion a year from international TV.

The business is reckoned to be growing at a modest clip given advertising downturns at nearly all foreign stations and a reluctance on the part of foreign broadcasters to be drawn into bidding wars.

Still, major broadcasters abroad rely on American product from the six majors. The only question is how much they can afford to pay and how competitive their local landscapes are. Inevitably, smaller independent U.S. distributors get squeezed when times are tough.

The RTL-Warner deal comes on the eve of the MIPTV program-sales bazaar in Cannes, set for March 30-April 3, where the level of global sales business and the general mood are expected to be purposeful but not likely buoyant.

"We're pleased to have acquired one of the most attractive packages available in the past few years for the German market," said Dirk Schweitzer, RTL's head of program acquisitions and sales.

RTL had been looking to sign with Warners for years but was outbid twice — by Herbert Kloiber's Tele Munchen Group and then, two years ago, by ProSieben. Every few years, WBITD typically likes to move its product around among broadcasters in a given territory.

Elizabeth Guider reported from Los Angeles; Scott Roxborough reported from Cologne, Germany.
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