United Kingdom: Rising cost of U.S. skeins hurts Blighty bankrolls

Mipcom 2005: Territory report

LONDON — Domestic fare continues to dominate the U.K.’s big webs, but as ITV — Blighty’s biggest commercial terrestrial network — prepares to launch two new digital channels, competition to secure key U.S. shows is hotter than ever.

At the recent Edinburgh Television Festival, Sky One controller James Baker declared: “The acquisition market had gone bonkers.

“A year ago, paying $450,000 per hour for a U.S. drama would have been serious money,” says Baker. “Now you’re looking at $900,000 per hour. To be in the U.S. market at all, you’re going to have to be willing to spend that kind of money.”

ITV is seeking to furnish its new digital channels with U.S. fare and to broaden its business as competitors take revenue from embattled flagship web ITV1. On Nov. 1, ITV4 bows, aimed at a predominantly male audience. ITV Kids follows in the new year.

The combo made its intentions clear when, following the L.A. Screenings, it snapped up rights to Warner Bros.’ sci-fi skein “Supernatural.” More acquisitions are in the cards.

Says ITV CEO Charles Allen: “For many years, ITV has focused on local programming. Now I see our family of channels being able to buy much more U.S. programming and competing with Channel 4 and Five for firstrun, high-quality U.S. acquisitions for the first time.”

Cash-rich Channel 4 and Five, re-energized by the recent decision by RTL to buy out minority owner United Business Media, are certain to rise to Allen’s challenge.

Channel 4’s acquisitions department is under the new leadership of Jeff Ford, the former buyer for Five who started his new gig July 4.

He will be making his Mipcom debut wearing a C4 hat. Having built up an impressive cache of U.S. imports for Five, spearheaded by the “CSI” franchise, he is hitting the ground running at C4, thanks to a bigger budget and a strong perf throughout the past nine months by C4.

“Channel 4 is a much more aggressive player than Five,” says Ford. “It has always been known for buying the very big titles, movies as well as TV series. I intend to continue that strategy. ‘Lost’ has played extremely well for us, but we can’t afford to rest on our laurels.

“With the launch of More4 (aimed at older, upscale auds), my department is now feeding four channels. I intend to ensure that Channel 4 remains the top provider of U.S. series to British audiences.”

On the selling front, ITV aims to make a big slash at Mipcom via sales arm Granada Intl.

Among the fare on offer is new ITV1 police skein “Jericho,” starring Robert Lindsay; “Whatever Love Means,” a TV movie recounting the royal romance of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles; and controversial reality show “Celebrity Love Island.”

“It’s still a tough market, but the range of our offering is unique. We have the ability to segment rights across all platforms and so enhance value for our clients,” says Granada Intl. topper Nadine Nohr.

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