Studios Focusing on Co-Financing High-Profile TV Series With Foreign Broadcasters

Fox Intl Channels, NBC Universal and Sony are among those who have successfully delivered shows, like "The Walking Dead," day-and-date in the U.S. and internationally.

It's not just about selling individual shows to foreign broadcasters that keeps the Hollywood majors hopping around the globe -- and minting the moolah.

Their international channels are starting to bring in big bucks -- and rode out the recession better than many other sectors of the biz.

Now players like Fox Intl Channels, NBC Universal and Sony are focusing on another way to create more bang for their bucks: co-financing of high-profile content by the foreign offshoots themselves and day and date delivery of that high-profile content on their owned channels. And Stateside too.

Think The Walking Dead, which Fox Intl Channels smartly parlayed around the world on Halloween, and Haven, which NBC Uni beamed out on Syfy outlets around the world simultaneously.

"We're now, with 70-odd channels around the world, of the size and scale that we can invest ourselves in original content. And this is happening at the same time U.S. producers are stretched financially in what they can afford to make."

So said NBC Uni's London-based channels head Roma Khanna.

She was speaking on a panel at NATPE on Tuesday about new trends in the international channels business.

NBC Uni channels abroad also pooled financial resources to help fund (and to jointly air) several other shows --  Rookie Blue, Fairly Legal and Shattered -- in just the last two years.

"We either come in as a prebuy or as a co-producer with more money upfront and some backend," Khanna told participants at NATPE.

Foc Intl Channels president Hernan Lopez said his group did something similar with the recent hit "The Walking Dead" though it wasn't immediately an obvious thing to do.

"Not everyone at the channels was thrilled with the idea of  zombies at first. They're not as sexy as vampires," Lopez explained.

But eventually the Fox foreign outlets came onboard and launching Dead at Halloween created great buzz in all the markets, he said.

Still, Lopez cautioned, it takes a great piece of content and a lot of coordination to pull these things off.

"We'd like to replicate the Dead experience but it's not easy," Lopez said.

There is little doubt though that audiences everwhere, much more connected and savvy about media nowadays, want to see hot content  as close to day and date as possible. (If not, they may just steal it.)

Putting together such ad hoc networks worldwide not only makes sense financially and saves on marketing but can beat the pirates.

Sony Pictures TV channels president Andy Kaplan said his unit had looked at the Fox and NBC Uni experiments and is considering doing something similar.

"We haven't yet but we're about to do such a global launch," Kaplan said, though he didn't elaborate on what show Sony would experiment with. So far Sony has done a few regional launches, as with The Amazing Race on its action channels branded AXN.

Not that local production efforts abroad are going away for any of the big American players.

HBO Enterprises president Simon Sutton and Discovery evp Dee Forbes both said local fare or localized versions of American shows will still play a crucial role on their foreign offshoots.

A Romanian version of In Treatment, for example, has worked well on HBO's local feed in that country; Discovery's TLC, which is just beginning its foreign rollouts starting with Norway, is already localizing some of its lifestyle fare.

"For a foreign channel to work, it needs to have a local flavor," Forbes said.