EmptyL.A. Screenings listings (PDF download)
Whether its Jerry Bruckheimer's actioner "Chase" for Warner Bros., Shonda Rhimes' jungle-set medical drama "Off the Map" for Disney, "Terra Nova," Fox's futuristic midseason entry from Steven Spielberg or Universal's suspenser "The Event," there's something for just about every taste awaiting foreign buyers at the L.A. Screenings. There's even a contemporary reimagining of "Hawaii Five-O" from the "Star Trek" duo of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci for CBS Studios, and the Sony comedy "Mr. Sunshine," starring Matthew Perry.
Given that the U.S. broadcast networks have axed an unprecedented number of poor-performing series in the past few weeks to make room for what they hope is better fall fare, there will be a potpourri for foreign program buyers. Indeed, the five broadcast nets have greenlit 37 series for the new season, of which 22 are dramas of one kind or another.
These one-hours are traditionally the name of the game when it comes to big-buck deals abroad, though given what the differing needs are among foreign broadcasters -- many have become more targeted in their approach to demos -- high-concept sitcoms, adult animated shows and reality formats play a growing role on overseas skeds, boosting the revenues of U.S. sellers.
With so much to choose from, the question is what foreign buyers will pay to acquire la creme de la creme for broadcast abroad. Their excuses for not stepping up are dwindling: Economies abroad are slowly recovering and ad markets are starting to percolate. The latest financial results from such big players as ITV, RTL, TF1 and Mediaset were more promising than in several years. Buyers will, however, need to be persuaded that what they're forking out for isn't just a stop-gap solution but a long-term content play.
"I think compared to the last two years the overall tone and the reception of our content is far more positive," says Ben Pyne, president of global distribution at Disney Media Networks. "The economy is picking up in most territories but more importantly we are servicing our clients better."
At last count, 1,250 foreign TV program buyers were scheduled to begin hitting town today to sift through the new series for the U.S. broadcast networks and a growing crop of new cable product as well. This end-of-May marathon is the first opportunity each year for international buyers to see what's in store for American audiences and to put dibs on what they think will work and have staying power.
Here's what underpins the negotiations as buyers and sellers get down to brass tacks: The sellers will remind, if need be, a good Yank show can work well in primetime, driving local ratings and costing several times less than if the broadcaster were to make such a show locally. The foreign station will emphasize the risk of acquiring a U.S. show that may flounder stateside, leaving the foreign broadcaster in the lurch.
In the background, too, is the growing sensation that a historic cycle is coming to an end.
The three-pronged juggernaut of "CSI" is inevitably showing signs of flagging after a stunning decadelong domination of the airwaves not only domestically but also internationally. Its inroads into global primetime schedules years ago reversed a decline in appreciation of Yank product abroad and was quickly followed by a spate of major successes for the Hollywood majors' licensing arms -- everything from Disney's "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" to Warners' "Cold Case" and "Without a Trace," to CBS' "NCIS," to NBC Universal's "Heroes," to Fox's "24" and "Prison Break."
All these dramas led to the healthiest performance by the international TV divisions of the majors in history -- an overall haul that hovers around $7 billion a year. Now age has taken its toll on a few of these lucrative series and, as a result, there will be holes to be filled in skeds across the globe.
Fans may fume but for those selling new product, open slots are good. Plus, there were some standout hits from the current season, as in Fox's dynamic duo "Glee" and "Modern Family" and CBS Studios' "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "The Good Wife."
"Buyers are coming to acquire and they want shows at a price that makes sense to them. In any case, we didn't take a huge blow in the area of pricing even during the downturn," 20th Century Fox International TV president Marion Edwards points out.
Armando Nunez, president of CBS Studios International, feels pleased about the Eye's performance this year and its new offerings.
"We have three promising dramas and the outlook abroad is more positive. Attendance at the Screenings is up but what buyers now expect is not just a good pilot but a series whose entire story arc is compelling. They have a lot to choose from this time, so they're going to be demanding," he says.
Arguably the most energized international seller is NBC Uni's International TV president Belinda Menendez, who, for the first time in several years, has a handful of new dramas to pitch as well as a couple of sitcoms.
Those buyers who have output deals with the majors, and essentially have to take the bulk of what is on that company's sales roster, come to town to see what they have to buy, as it were. They have to be happy with Fox and CBS Studios right now.
Sony Pictures Television International's Keith Le Goy defends the merits and equal footing that cable shows have arguably acquired in the minds of foreign buyers.
"Buyers are looking for the next best TV show -- from wherever," Le Goy says. "And that means from cable as well as broadcast." He points out that Fox used to be an ugly stepchild and is now the No. 1 network; the CW's shows were once undervalued and now travel as well as any. The same, he says, is now true for FX, HBO, Showtime and other cablers, whose content, and license fees, are on par now with those of the Big Five.