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Southern Star rising

Sydney sales and prod'n house surviving cutbacks

SYDNEY — Sales and production house Southern Star has survived the European cutbacks in Oz TV content by restructuring, cost-cutting and strapping itself to the Dutch Endemol reality juggernaut.

Until the late ’90s, Southern Star raked in cash from sales to the European TV market that evaporated in the wake of local production incentives and Hollywood output deals.

The company’s restructuring stemmed losses and was completed in July when it shuttered production of police drama “Water Rats.”

The bureaucracies inherited in acquisitions are gone, staff have been cut by 20% and all current and future productions are fully financed.

Things have gone particularly well since Southern Star and Endemol pacted to form the Southern Star Endemol (SSE) divison late last year to produce and sell formats to local networks.

Buoyed by sky-high ratings for “Big Brother,” broadcaster Canwest’s Network Ten is negotiating with SSE for a second season and an abridged celebrity version of the show.

However, despite Ten’s assurances that it had future series stitched up, Southern Star’s executive chairman Neil Balnaves says the deal is far from done and they could get more money elsewhere.

Going shopping

SSE is awaiting Ten’s offer before the series is shopped to other commercial webs, Kerry Stokes’ Seven and Kerry Packer’s Nine, ahead of a final bid from Ten.

Balnaves says, “We’ve been anxious to conclude negotiations because it gets the brand up and moving ahead of the next series.”

SSE also has two series in the works for Nine. “Chains of Love” is in production and about to launch; “Shafted,” a cross between “Weakest Link,” “The Price Is Right” and “Greed,” is at the pilot stage.

Adding to the good news at Southern Star, its sales division marketed sudser “Home and Away” to British broadcaster Channel 5 after rival ITV, which had broadcast it for around 10 years, tried to negotiate a lower license fee.

Southern Star Sales successfully brokered an in perpetuity deal for more money with Channel 5, a significant earner according to Balnaves. After a year in mothballs, “Home and Away” has relaunched on Brit TV to boffo ratings.

Still, Balnaves is cautious of signalling the company’s comeback despite the success of youth drama series “The Secret Life of Us” airing on Ten and British broadcaster Channel 4, and burgeoning profits from Southern Star Duplitek, its CD and cassette duplicating division.

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