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Channel 4 pacts with U.S. pubcasters

WNET, PBS, WGBH inks deals to help broaden Brit co.

FROM MIP TVCANNES — Vowing to double its revenues from foreign program sales to $45 million over the next three years, newly reinvigorated Channel Four Intl. sailed into Mip with a series of agreements inked with leading U.S. public broadcasters.

The transactions include the co-production of “History Lab,” a docu C4I will co-produce with New York’s WNET, and joint development of the docu series “Great Military Blunders” with the Public Broadcast Service.

The distrib arm of the British “alternative” station has also sold “Station X,” the channel’s most popular docu program of 1999, to WGBH Boston for its Nova strand. In addition, PBS has picked up U.S. rights to Four’s popular Italian cooking show “The River Cafe.”

Bernard MacLeod, managing director of C4I since last October, told reporters Tuesday in Cannes that his vision for the station’s distribution arm was three-fold: to make it the distributor of choice for British indie producers, to pick up rights from more outside sources, and to boost co-productions both with other Europeans and with Americans.

“The days of being little Englanders are over,” MacLeod said.

Similarly, Channel Four chief executive Michael Jackson, also in Cannes for the six-day trade show, stressed his support for a more commercial approach to the changing television business. Specifically, he and MacLeod said there would be renewed emphasis at the station on longer drama series which were more marketable abroad. He also said there would be efforts to relate to and work with new Euro production alliances, such as the one recently formed by Germany’s Kirch Group and Italy’s Mediaset.

As for acquisitions from the U.S., Jackson reiterated his view that the station would in future buy fewer U.S. series, but that the spending level would probably remain about the same as in the last few years. He pointed to the success of such edgy imports as “South Park,” “Ally McBeal” and “Sex and the City” as indications of the kinds of American programming that enhance the Channel Four brand.

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