Skein competition could get ugly

CANNES — It could be the battle of the “Bettys” — the ugly ones, that is — as Disney launches one of its hottest new skeins in Europe — and has to contend with FremantleMedia’s localized versions of the original Latino telenovela “Betty la Fea.”

“Ugly Betty,” a dramedy that’s more loosely inspired by the Latino sudser, is one of the new series the Mouse House is pushing here in Cannes, and one it talked up Monday during a press bash.

Similarly, FremantleMedia met with press early Monday to talk up its slate of shows, not only its localized sudsers but also an array of gameshows, reality formats and serials. Among its new titles are the British format “Poker Face,” an updated take on “The Price Is Right” and comedy format “Thank God You’re Here.”

Fremantle’s localized versions of “Betty la Fea” have been produced for Germany, the Netherlands and Spain and soon will launch in Belgium and Greece.

“I think having Disney’s show in the mix will actually heighten the interest in telenovelas over here,” said Naomi Joseph, exec VP for worldwide drama at Fremantle. Joseph said the tone of the two shows was quite different.

Broadcasters in the U.K., France, Italy and Sweden have signed on the bottom line for Disney’s “Ugly Betty” so far, with several other territories pending.

The battling telenovela versions is just another indication of how complex and sometimes surprising programming deals abroad can be. With so many outlets for product popping up, there’s room for original versions of imported fare, localized formats and downloads of snippets to computers or hand-held devices. Sometimes the same broadcasters air competing versions of the same show.

Among other news the Mouse House touted Monday:

  • ABC News Now channel will launch in India via a deal with leading digital terrestrial carrier Dish TV;

  • Disney movies will be made available in France on TF1′s on-demand Web site Vision. Titles include “Cinderella Man,” “Flightplan” and “Derailed”;

  • The Mouse House has secured distribution rights to international theatrical co-productions made in Latin America via its Miravista label.

For its part, Fremantle unveiled a revamp of its Oz operations whereby it will combine its two local production entities, Grundy and Crackerjack, under one roof. FremantleMedia Australia will be run by CEO Mark Fennessy and chief operating officer Carl Fennessy.

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