NBC Uni to grow News Corp. joint venture

Hulu to expand to Germany, U.K., France, Japan

LONDON -- NBC Universal International president Pete Smith on Monday urged media companies to "be bold" and make "fundamental changes" to the way they do business, pledging to expand the studio's international channels, local production and online video businesses despite the economic downturn.

Speaking at the Pricewaterhouse European Media Leaders summit in London, Smith said that NBC is in talks to acquire an undisclosed Russian production outfit, expects to grow its international footprint from 65 to 100 channels in the next three years and is planning to expand Hulu -- its video content joint venture with News Corp. -- to Germany, the U.K., France and Japan.

Sounding an unexpectedly optimistic note for the future of entertainment companies, Smith said he saw well-priced opportunities in mergers and acquisitions that can be funded by asset-swaps rather than cash, and pledged that NBC will make good on its forecast to achieve international film and television revenue of $5 billion by 2010.

"This is not about stopping people (from) using taxis or imposing pay freezes for the most junior names on the payroll, It is about being bold with new business models, trying new initiatives and leveraging all parts of your organization," he said.

Citing initiatives including moving major productions like "The Philanthropist" from the U.S. to London -- Smith said that savings of as much as $1 million per episode can be achieved.

Multiterritory production collaborations in the mold of "Crusoe" -- produced by Power Television with financing from multiple international broadcasters -- were other options.