Mouse roars at Croisette

Disney sets sales at Mipcom

CANNES — The Mouse House made a big squeak Monday on the Croisette, commandeering the biggest boat in the port and touting a raft of deals for its shows.

“The Amazing Race,” “Extreme Makeover” and “Home Improvement” clinched deals for local versions in various parts of the world. Perhaps more important, the company’s latest trio of drama series comes to Cannes with solid rating starts Stateside — something foreign buyers want to see before signing on the dotted line.

“Better year, bigger boat” is how the company’s top European sales exec, Tom Toumazis, half-jokingly described the floating promotional push for the company’s latest slate of series.

All the Hollywood majors are present as exhibitors at the Mipcom five-day sales bazaar on the French Riviera, though only Disney made a point of blanketing the Croisette with news of its latest pacts.

The company has a strong hand to show: not just “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” — which have been licensed to 200-odd territories — but also last year’s midseasoner “Grey’s Anatomy,” which is catching on in several foreign markets already, and three new fall hopefuls.

The studio execs are mainly in Cannes to further sales of those three new programs — “Commander in Chief,” “Criminal Minds” and “Ghost Whisperer.”

Disney reps intimated that several deals for one or more of these would be finalized before the market wraps Friday. In some territories, the Disney shows are automatically included in output arrangements, but in many others they’re being sold on the open market.

If these three newcomers succeed abroad as well as “Lost” and “Housewives,” the Mouse will have, within 18 months, at least as many topnotch drama series percolating abroad as Warners and Fox.

At this trade show, Warners is pushing, among others, “Invasion” and “Close to Home”; Fox boasts “Prison Break” and “Bones.” Given their decade-old track record for series, each of these two studios is already bringing in $1 billion-plus in revenues from international TV sales.

But Disney has the hot hand at this hour.

“We’re nearly at $1 billion in revenues from foreign program sales,” Laurie Younger, Disney’s top TV distribution exec, told journalists on the “Pirates of the Caribbean”-flagged boat Monday.

Younger told Daily Variety her top series were raking in “more than” $1 million an episode from foreign TV buyers — double the $500,000 an episode most shows were commanding five years ago. Back then they played mostly in the wee hours abroad; nowadays, many of them are popping up in primetime on foreign stations.

“Last year was colossal,” Younger said, “and now we’re seeing amazing growth in old and new technology in Russia, India, China and Central Europe. And it’s happening all at once.”

Along with Younger, Toumazis and other Disney foreign sales reps were “Commander in Chief” exec producer Mark Friedman and “Grey’s Anatomy” producer Betsy Beers as well as the creator of “The Amazing Race,” Bertram Van Munster.

Another reason the Mouseketeers are quickening their pace abroad is the impetus from newly minted Mouse House CEO Bob Iger. He has several times proclaimed international to be one of the three prongs of his growth strategy for the company.

Here are deals unveiled Monday by Younger and her team:

  • In a first for the format, Disney’s “The Amazing Race” will be produced locally in Central Europe and separately in Asia by Sony’s AXN action channel.

  •  In another deal involving an offshoot of Sony, Disney’s “Extreme Makeover” will be reversioned in India by local channel Sony Entertainment Television.

  • A Russian version of sitcom “Home Improvement,” which runs in syndication in the U.S., will be made by national commercial broadcaster CTC.

  • Italian pubcaster RAI has snapped up a number of Disney kids titles including “Kim Possible” for its new children’s block, Random.
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