Nine, Warners renew pact

$500 mil deal brings content to Australia through 2015

In what is being billed as the largest single TV deal ever inked in Australia, Network Nine finally has locked up a renewal of its long-standing output pact with Warner Bros. for series and movies.

The total price tag for five more years of content through 2015 is almost $500 million if all escalators kick in and the studio's slate continues as hefty as it is today.

Competition for Warners' upcoming product was heated because Nine rival the Seven Network, the top-rated player Down Under, had made an aggressive counter-offer.

The Aussie arrangement essentially secures for Nine ongoing access to upcoming series from such Warners-based TV producers as Jerry Bruckheimer, John Wells, J.J. Abrams, Josh Schwartz, Kevin Williamson and Chuck Lorre as well as the studio's entire slate -- think three more "Harry Potter" installments, Christopher Nolan's "Inception" with Leonardo DiCaprio and more "Happy Feet."

Although Australia is reeling from its worst TV-advertising downturn in decades, network executives there apparently believe U.S. product is key to help build out digital and mobile platforms.

Despite Australia's relatively small population, it's an English-language TV market where U.S. product is politically welcome and popular in primetime, hence the healthy price tag.

"It was a very competitive situation in what is a very series-driven market," said Warner Bros. International TV president Jeffrey Schlesinger, who flew to Sydney last week to finalize the deal with Nine topper David Gyngell.

(The agreement follows another lucrative payday for Warners, in Germany, where the studio switched horses in a new deal with powerhouse broadcaster RTL.)

For his part, Gyngell professed relief over having sealed the deal: "We'll have new digital channels in the coming years, and we need the best product available to attract viewers. The new deal grants us exclusivities and revenue-sharing in new-media windows. Plus, as was clear at the LA Screenings last month, Warners has the best slate." (Bruckheimer's "Miami Trauma" and Williamson's "The Vampire Diaries" come to Nine via the current deal with Warners.)

Nine plans to launch a digital terrestrial channel soon, and Warners product is likely to be the backbone of that offering.

As for the price tag, Gyngell said Nine's venture-capital owners understand "the media world is tough" and that sometimes "vision" is necessary to secure the best product.

Still, the price is eyebrow-raising as Nine and parent company CVC Asia Pacific are cash-strapped. Sources suggest there will be some questions raised as to the affordability of the deal.

Nine also has a long-term agreement with Sony Pictures TV. Seven continues its output arrangement with Disney and NBC Universal, and Ten, the other key broadcast player, programs product from Fox and CBS Studios.

Pip Bulbeck in Sydney contributed to this report.