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U.K.’s ITV sends millions to WB for pix, TV shows

LONDON – ITV, one of the U.K.’s leading terrestrial webs, has signed a multimillion-dollar rights deal with Warner Bros. for a package of high-profile movies and TV material.

The announcement is the latest in a series of American acquisitions by U.K. nets in an increasingly competitive market as the established channels prepare to do battle with Channel 5, the new terrestrial station due to go on air next Easter.

Two weeks ago it emerged that Channel 4 had outbid C5 for the British rights to “Friends” and “ER” in a contract believed to be worth more than $100 million. This followed a joint buying spree by the British Broadcasting Corp. and C5 at Fox.

Wednesday ITV refused to put a pricetag on the Warners deal, which includes free-to-air rights to “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls,” “Batman Forever,” “The Bridges of Madison County,” “Outbreak,” “Eraser” and “Executive Decision.”

Also included are an unnamed animation series and new hour and half-hour TV shows from the 1996-97 season, including “The Drew Carey Show.”

The fact that ITV executives went to Hollywood, where they met with execs from all the major studios and lunched with program-makers Chris Carter and David Jacobs weeks before NATPE, is an indication of how keen Blighty’s terrestrial webs are to sign up American fare.

Jeff Ford, ITV’s controller of acquisitions, said he and five colleagues, including network director Marcus Plantin, went to the U.S. because it was important to show the U.S. studios that ITV was now very much back in the market for Yank TV drama and not only interested in buying movies.

He said: “For years ITV stopped buying American drama, but we’re now back in the running. Hollywood is listening to us and producing what we want. Our visit was a profile-raising exercise designed to outsmart everyone, which we did.”

Others, however, are interpreting ITV’s move as a response to what Channel 4 and the BBC and Channel 5 achieved on earlier U.S. shopping expeditions.

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