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SBS goes for shows

Firm set to invest in content, co-production

WARSAW — In a new tack to close its content gap, SBS Broadcasting has outlined for the first time ambitious plans to invest in production companies and to power up co-production alliances across Europe.

SBS plans to begin taking shares of up to 50% in production companies, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, chairman and CEO Harry Evans Sloan told Daily Variety.

Sloan admitted that the recent merger of pan-Euro broadcaster CLT-Ufa with Pearson TV, which resulted in the formation of the RTL Group and one of the richest content banks in the world, was one factor driving SBS’ new content ambitions.

Over the last three to four years, SBS has spent $500 million on local production; over the next five years, it will spend $800 million.

Numbers game

“If we just own 50% of that content, we will end up with a $400 million rights library,” Sloan said, adding that the rights will also feed new streams of revenue.

SBS’ lack of content was considered one of the biggest flaws in its now failed plans to merge its operations with cable outfit and broadband company United Pan-Europe Communications (UPC), and Sloan admits that content build-up is now crucial in SBS’ strategy to forge revenue streams from enhanced TV and Internet ventures. UPC still owns the largest stake (21%) in SBS.

Some of the first investments in production companies are expected to be in Hungary and Poland.

MTM, the local partner of SBS channel TV2 in Hungary, is an experienced production company, but plans are in the offing to buy into several other companies, each specializing in producing specific genres. In Poland, SBS just acquired a 33% stake in ITI-owned Polish channel TVN.

Sloan discounted rumors that SBS may still be on the auction block, telling a group of journalists flown to Warsaw by the company last week to showcase its Central and Eastern European assets that SBS “is not for sale.”

He told Daily Variety, however, that he is not ruling out larger pacts with UPC and its partners.

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