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Relations at crossroads in Australia-U.S. TV talks

With U.S. TV shows no longer the cat’s meow at Aussie webs, the pricing of such series — some of them top prime time performers stateside–is set to become a hot potato Down Under.

Take the current haggling between the Seven and Nine networks and Warner Bros. TV Intl. over strong raters such as “Murphy Brown” and “Full House.” If the increasingly choosy broadcasters don’t come around, the shows won’t grace Australia’s new season skeds, which begin in early February.

Even more important, the standoff between the broadcasters and the key Hollywood distributor may signal that old-time outputdeals are on the way out.

Smaller suppliers’ deals have ended; while Disney and Columbia still have product locked up, the latter’s deal is under negotiation.

The Aussie nets say they don’t want the deals, and distribs, even those with deals still in place, agree they don’t suit the current austere financial climate or nets’ scheduling capacities and resources.

In the heady ’80s, Australia’s three commercial nets locked themselves into expensive output deals with the U.S. majors (excluding Paramount, which never aligned with any one net) to guarantee product flow.

But as each web felt the cash crunch of the late ’80s, they renegotiated their supply arrangements to reduce programming costs and shifted to Australian dollar payments to hedge against currency fluctuations.

Prices for TV series that don’t fall into output deals have been held at around $ A20,000 ($ 13,500) per hour for the past two years, sources say.

The WB output deal with Nine–which separates out Lorimar product to Seven–is one of the last to expire. Now that it has, it gives the two webs a chance to shift to Australian dollars, currently faring badly against the greenback, and pull prices back to the $ 13,500 level.

While WB is understood to be neutral about the shift to Australian dollar payments, it’s believed to be asking upwards of $ 25,000 (or approximately $ A37 ,000) per hour–an 80% increase on current prices.

WB’s Oz managing director, Wayne Broun, wasn’t available for comment at presstime. Neither was WB TV Intl. president Michael J. Solomon.

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