Deutsch treat for Warner Bros.

More than 200 films, TV series in deal

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 per 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 although local shows tend to dominate the airwaves there, American dramas and blockbuster movies still rate highly in primetime and hence command good prices.

Warner Bros. International Television had recently been teamed with RTL's main commercial rival in the territory, ProSiebenSat.1, but will switch to RTL starting next year.

The huge package includes rights to all Warners titles available to free TV from 2010 on, including the two-parter "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," which will close the blockbuster fantasy franchise, as well as any eventual "Batmans," "Supermans" or "Green Lanterns" that get produced in the time frame.

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 upcoming 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, really good value for foreign broadcasters," WBITD president Jeffrey Schlesinger said. While Schlesinger would not confirm the estimated pricetag, he did say that Warners "did not drop its price" and that, whatever the deflationary pressures out there in the marketplace, the revenue from this 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 11," "Rush Hour 2" and "Blade 2."

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

Warner Bros.' international TV business, including both deals for free and pay TV, is estimated to fill the studio's coffers with upwards of $2 billion a year, with all six MPA companies collectively hauling in some $7.5 billion a year.

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

Still, major broadcasters abroad all rely on American product from the six majors -- the only question is how much they can afford to pay and how competitive their own local landscape is. It's inevitably the smaller independent U.S. distributors who get squeezed when times are tough.

The deal comes on the eve of the MIPTV program sales bazaar in Cannes (March 30-April 3) where the level of global sales business and the general mood is expected to be determinedly purposeful but not likely buoyant.

(The Hollywood majors no longer time their deals to coincide with any given trade show.)

"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, head of program acquisitions and sales for RTL.

RTL has been looking to sign with Warners for a number of years now but was twice outbid -- first by Herbert Kloiber's Tele Munchen Group and then, two years ago, by competitor ProSieben. WBITD typically likes to move its product around among broadcasters in a given territory every few years.

ProSieben execs told THR that their group backed out of negotiations this time because of new conditions Warner attached to the deal. These include hold-back clauses in which Warner keeps German rights for other windows such as Internet streaming and mobile downloads.

"Under these conditions, the price was just too high," a ProSieben spokesman said. The stock price of ProSieben has been pummeled during the last year.

Schweitzer would not comment on specific details of its negotiations with Warner except to say that the deal was structured in such a way as to ensure RTL1's core free-TV business would not be cannibalized by Warners titles being shown on other platforms.

RTL is part of the Berteslmann media conglom and operates stations in a dozen European territories. The deal with WBITD is only for Germany, however.

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