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Channel 4 inks WB deal

LONDON – Channel 4, Britain’s feisty minority web, has signed a multimillion-dollar rights deal with Warner Bros. The program package features several high-profile shows, most notably renewals on hit series “Friends” and “ER,” which the station will now continue airing in the U.K. for the next four years.

The deal comes a fortnight after C4 indicated its intention to buy fewer American series in future. C4 execs say that competition has pushed up the price of some U.S. series to the point where it is just as cost-effective to commission original, domestically produced fare than buy from Hollywood.

John Willis, C4’s director of programs, described the Warners package as one of the station’s largest acquisitions deals in recent years, but declined to say how much coin was involved or the number of hours it represented.

The package includes a number of movies and two new sitcoms, “Pearl” and “Suddenly Susan.”

“Channel 4 will always be interested in buying the best American TV has to offer, but the size of this deal may mean we will be buying less from the other big U.S. studios in the coming months,” Willis said.

A C4 source confirmed that the station intends to reduce the proportion of Yank shows it screens in the long term. Earlier this year the web was criticized by the Independent Television Commission, the U.K. regulator, for relying too heavily on imported shows.

Since its launch in 1982 C4 has shown a far higher percentage of U.S. programming than Blighty’s other terrestrial nets, with the result that key points in the schedule are dominated by Yank material.

“Friends” and, to a lesser extent, “ER” enjoy cult followings in the U.K. Losing either show to a rival would have been a serious blow to C4.

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