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BBC preps America channel sans A&E

The BBC, fed up with American partners like A&E and PBS taking all the credit for such noted BBC productions as “Pride & Prejudice” and “The Singing Detective,” will go ahead with the creation of a 24-hour entertainment cable network in the U.S.

Sources say the BBC plans to push its brand aggressively — the tentative name of the new U.S. channel is BBC America — and to walk away from its long-standing output deal with A&E, which expires in the summer of 1998.

The BBC is fully aware of the problems it could face when the A&E contract lapses, these sources say, because A&E was willing to put up half or more of the budgets of such lavish productions as the forthcoming six-hour adaptation of “Ivanhoe.”

It could take years for BBC America to yield the kinds of revenues from advertisers and from cable operators and DBS distributors to make up for the disappearance of generous co-production money from the likes of A&E and PBS.

The BBC’s U.S. channel will be one element within an overall five-year, $500 million joint venture with Discovery Communications. But instead of being half-owner of the network with the BBC, Discovery will negotiate a management fee for the use of its affiliate sales and advertising sales departments. The affiliate salespeople will try to get the network cleared on U.S. cable systems and DBS distribs, and the ad sales staff will attempt to convince Madison Avenue to funnel advertiser money to the channel.

“But my question is: Will the American consumer buy a 24-hour channel made up of British programming?” asks Nick Davatzes, president and CEO of A&E and the History Channel. The stock in trade of the BBC network will be dramatic series, TV movies, miniseries, sitcoms and arts programming.

Davatzes says he has already begun planning for the demise of the BBC output deal by entering into more co-production arrangements with such British houses as Granada, Meridian and Yorkshire.

— John Dempsey

NBC up-front about Fox’s upfront threat

NBC, which has always acknowledged the growth of Fox when talking about the web’s ratings performance, now is betting that the upstart network could make strong inroads in terms of ad revenue this upfront sales period.

While NBC is clearly the odds-on-favorite to be first in ad revenue and the ratings next season, Peacock web execs told media buyers last week that they expect Fox to be a serious contender for second place on the money front.

Fox execs were pleased. While it’s nice to be seen as a ratings challenger, the web feels it has arrived when they become a money contender in the eyes of the competition

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