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Pearson pursuing Stateside partners

Eyre seeking 'natural fits' with American companies

FROM MIP TV

CANNES — Having made no secret of its plan to quickly ramp up its presence in the U.S., the newly hitched Pearson Television – CLT/Ufa is seeking Stateside partners to help meet that goal.

Pearson TV CEO Richard Eyre, away from the hustle of Mip aboard the Pearson yacht in Cannes, told Daily Variety that the new company is already thinking about ways a U.S. studio or network partner could help expand Pearson’s presence in the States.

While foreign-ownership regs prevent Pearson from simply acquiring a network, Eyre said there were other ways the company could move deeper into the U.S. market.

“This is the era of strategic alliances,” said Eyre, noting that Pearson has already been successful with a strategy of taking minority ownership stakes in Internet and other media companies in exchange for partial control of how they work.

Eyre, at Pearson for only two months, declined to get specific about possible partners except to say that he was looking for “natural fits” with American companies. He left no doubt as to his company’s desire to get bigger in the United States. “Pearson in the U.S. is secure, profitable — and also very small. I think we’ve got a lot of work to do in America.”

Echoing Middelhoff

Eyre’s musings followed by one day the observations of Bertelsmann chief exec Thomas Middelhoff, who told German business daily Handelsblatt that the group, which owns a large stake in CLT/Ufa, also planned to acquire ownership stakes in U.S. broadcasters once laws were changed to allow foreign firms to hold more than 25%.

Whether in the U.S. or elsewhere, Eyre made it clear that the Pearson – CLT/Ufa conglom will no doubt get even bigger over the next few years as consolidation within the TV biz grows even more widespread.

“We have $2 billion in cash before we need to speak to a bank,” he said, only half-jokingly, adding that the new conglom has virtually no debt.

Some of that coin will go into program development as Pearson — already behind global hits such as “Baywatch” and “The Price Is Right” — looks to find the next big programming phenom. Shows such as “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” (greenlit while Eyre oversaw the ITV network) or Endemol’s “Big Brother” have demonstrated how vital the producer’s role is in the programming food chain.

‘Independent player’

As director of strategy and development for the new $19 billion conglom, Eyre said he intended to build Pearson’s volume of business with both old and new broadcasters and not get bogged down in supplying the U.K.’s Channel 5 — of which the merged companies hold a 65% — or CLT/Ufa’s TV channels. What’s more, Eyre said it’s vitally important for Pearson to remain an “independent player” within the merger with CLT/Ufa.

“We will continue to be Pearson Television, but in a much more convincing way. … There’s no sense to this deal if we don’t,” Eyre said. “The relationship with CLT/Ufa is not whatever we make they take.”

Sounding like an exec at Disney or Viacom at the time of their respective acquisitions of ABC and CBS, Eyre vowed that Pearson would not become the inhouse supplier of all C5 product or CLT/Ufa.

Eyre added that he intended to stay hands-off in the day-to-day running of the successful C5. “The quickest way to piss off great people is to hire them and then tell them what to do,” he said.

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