Aussies Target U.S. For Partners, Growth

“The U.S. market has been xenophobic for so long, looking inwards for its programming, with such a high failure rate. The time must come when foreign programming starts to look pretty attractive – for far fewer dollars.”

So says Neil Balnaves, chief exec of Australian production/distribution outfit Southern Star, explaining why he’s making his sixth pilgrimage to the NATPE market.

The usual hefty contingent of Australians heading for the Las Vegas meet includes reps of Beyond Intl., the Australian Broadcasting Corp. and Village Roadshow Pictures, plus distribs Max Stuart and PRO Intl.’s Richard Becker.

The Aussies have made a few inroads into the U.S. market; among the most recent, the FX cable web snapped up the Seven network’s soap “Home and Away,” and Beyond placed the animated series “Blinky Bill” with U.S. syndicator Sachs Family Entertainment and sold the “Ocean Girl” series to the Disney Channel.

The efforts continue. At NATPE, Sachs is launching ABC’s children’s series “Bananas in Pyjamas,” which is being reversioned for the U.S. Aired as five-minute episodes here, the series is being fashioned as a half-hour with new animation and new links, says Wendy Hallam, ABC Intl. head of program sales. Also, Sachs has made a slew of product merchandising deals for “Bananas.’

This will be the first NATPE since the ABC switched its U.S. sales agent, moving to Don Taffner’s DLT Entertainment.

Village Roadshow Pictures’ L.A.-based president, Greg Coote, will attend along with American colleague Norman Stephens and Australian exec Nick McMahon. “We’re interested in getting into the one-hour syndication business,” Coote says. “We’re developing a number of projects and we’re going to find partners.” VRP has focused on telepix (“Sahara” for Showtime and Columbia TV) and miniseries such as “The Fatal Shore” (four hours for TNT, the BBC, BSkyB and Australia’s Nine network). VRP doesn’t take a stand at NATPE, working the floors, in Coote’s words, as “a buyer and deal-maker, most of the time schmoozing.”

Southern Star likely will take a stand next year, according to Balnaves. “The U.S. market is slowly turning,” says Balnaves, who’ll be at NATPE with Southern Star Sales chief exec Robyn Watts. “With the proliferation of U.S. buyers, there is more validity for us as a supplier.”

Beyond Intl. shares a stand with the U.K.’s Chatsworth Television. “We’ve been going for the past five or six years; it’s a good place to meet and greet local TV operators, finalize deals or start new things,” says Beyond’s managing director, Mikael Borglund.

Distrib Max Stuart has clocked 10 NATPE appearances, and has a different tack to the other Aussies. He finds the market most useful to contact Latin American buyers who are good customers for the docus, feature films and infotainment programs he reps.

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