Neil sets sights on rights to Brit TV

WMR backers include Key Street Media

Former BSkyB chairman Andrew Neil is turning his attention from publishing to TV production with the launch of a £30 million ($52.5 million) fund to secure rights from the U.K.’s independent production sector.

World Media Rights has been set up by Neil — currently publisher of the Business and the Scotsman Group, along with consultant and author Alan Griffiths and investment partner David Honey — with the aim of snapping up rights for TV and new-media platforms while providing a new source of investment for producers.

The new venture is backed by investment banker Robert Fraser, who is also linked with King Street Media, a London-based IP fund established in 2004 by former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Wilkinson, which has already acquired a number of music libraries.

“WMR is wholly devoted to acquiring and exploiting rights,” explained Neil at the fund’s launch in Cannes. “We’re not a production company, and we’re not a broadcaster.”

Unlike private equity outfits, WMR doesn’t want to invest in production companies. Instead, aim is to acquire rights across a broad range of genres including factual, entertainment, formats, education, children’s programming and wildlife.

WMR will take international rights to those programs and is looking to set up its own sales arm or to acquire an established distributor.

“It’s probably an acquisition we will have to make,” said Neil.

At the same time, company hopes to tap into the growing demand for content from 3G mobile phone operators and other new-media platforms.

“New media is hungry for content,” said Neil. “WMR will provide the bridge.”

With license fees from domestic broadcasters falling, Blighty’s independent producers are facing increasingly large deficits to cover, and WMR intends to fill that gap by funding up to 30% of a program’s budget. But as well as new productions requiring deficit financing, the fund will also look to acquire catalogs from producers or broadcasters that can be refreshed for today’s market.

New venture will face stiff competition for international rights in the U.K., where distributors including BBC Worldwide, RDF Media and Channel 4 Intl. have been wooing indie producers with lucrative first-look deals and offers of deficit finance following the introduction of new terms of trade last year.

Neil says WMR will unveil its first deals in November.

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