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U in o’seas overdrive

Garland tops new unit launching branded channels

Taking another big step into the international TV marketplace, Universal Studios has tapped MTV Networks veteran Tony Garland to head a new division dedicated to launching U-branded channels around the world.

Garland, who will be based in London, has been named senior VP and managing director of Universal Studios Networks. He reports to Blair Westlake, president of Universal Studios Pay Television and Television Business Development.

U’s move to establish the infrastructure for managing studio-branded channels in foreign markets is understood to be the precursor to the unveiling of international output deals in key European and Asian TV markets. Westlake said Thursday the studio would soon be making news on the international front, but he declined to elaborate.

“We plan to create and launch, or invest in, cable (and satellite TV) and broadcast program services in key markets, utilizing Universal’s creative resource and vast motion picture and TV library,” Westlake said.

While new channels face an uphill battle in securing carriage on domestic cable and satellite TV service, the growth of subscriber-based TV services outside the U.S. has opened up a world of opportunity for content-rich concerns like Universal. Warner Bros., for example, has launched a Spanish- and Portuguese-language service, WBTV — the Warner Channel, in Latin America.

Universal locked in channel carriage commitments with two of Europe’s major TV players last year as part of long-term TV and movie licensing deals struck with Germany’s Kirch Group and France’s Canal Plus. U also has ownership interests in cable- and satellite-delivered entertainment channels serving Poland and Latin America.

The first of two U-branded channels is due to launch on Canal Plus’ Canalsatellite sat-TV platform in November, while the first of two U channels on Kirch’s DF1 satcaster is expected to bow in January. In both markets, the first channels will focus on action-adventure and mystery fare from the studio vault, home to such evergreens as “Miami Vice,” “Magnum P.I.” and “Columbo.”

Both channels will be supplemented with locally licensed programming, but original U productions for the channels are still a long way off. The subscriber bases of the fledgling sat-TV services in Germany and France are still too small to generate the advertising revenue needed to offset to the cost of original productions, Westlake said.

U’s next territorial targets for new channels include Spain, Italy, the Scandinavian countries, Japan and the U.K., Westlake said.

In his new post with Universal, Garland will oversee a staff of about 20 to 25 in each territory where the studio launches channels. Westlake said the goal is to have local managers handling day-to-day programming and promotion matters to ensure each channel reflects the tastes and sensibilities of its target audience.

Before signing on with Universal, Garland served as executive VP of MTV Networks Intl., where he helped develop and manage foreign offshoots of MTV and VH1. Before MTV, Garland held executive posts with HBO and the consulting firm Yankelovich, Skelly and White Inc.

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