They may be variously up and down in the ratings Stateside, but award shows are on a roll abroad. And the money has only one direction to go — up.
Perhaps none more so than the Oscar extravaganza.
Since the Academy inked a deal with Disney as its foreign distrib a decade ago, the Mouse House sales team has expanded the reach of the Oscarcast and multiplied what foreign broadcasters are paying for it.
That amount still has a long way to go to equal the Stateside license fee. Disney-owned ABC, which has broadcast the show for almost three decades, forks out $50 million a year to the Academy for the privilege.
In 1998 the Oscarcast aired in 155 territories; it’s now in 202, meaning there’s virtually no enclave anywhere that’s unaware of Hollywood’s three-hour glitz-a-thon.
Before the international market blossomed in the 1980s, the show (like most other American TV product) was a bit of a throwaway abroad, bringing in essentially no money to the Academy.
But that has changed.
“This is a very special property,” says Tom Toumazis, Disney’s top international TV sales exec. “It celebrates film, it’s wonderfully produced, it’s very prestigious to have: In short, broadcasters compete for it in many territories.”
The distributor does not package the show with movies or other product, but licenses it in discrete deals. The Academy’s contract with Walt Disney TV Intl. is separate from its contract with Disney-owned ABC for the Stateside telecast, but the two in essence work in tandem. (The contract with ABC domestically runs through 2014; the contract with Disney Intl. runs through 2010.)
Although Toumazis wouldn’t elaborate on the dollar figures, veterans of the foreign biz estimate the awards special is bringing in as much as $12 million-$15 million in revenues to the Academy from foreign sales each year. (Disney gets an unspecified distribution fee.)
The general buoyancy of the foreign market, the fascination with celebrities and favorable exchange rates with the dollar have contributed to the recent healthy returns.
Although it’s impossible to pinpoint actual worldwide ratings or precise viewership, the Academy’s executive director, Bruce Davis, reckons the Oscarcast is “the single most widely watched annual show in the world.”
“There continues to be enormous interest in American movies and talent around the world, and that helps explain Oscar’s popularity,” Davis says.
He also thinks the Academy’s 90-minute edited version of the Oscarcast, which is purposely tilted to highlight foreign talent or films in contention, goes over well with a variety of international clients who opt for that format.
The Golden Globes telecast is also on the rise. “It’s the fastest-growing film and TV awards show in the world, with the television side of things really now taking off,” says its longtime distrib Fred Haber, who has made licensing awards shows something of a specialty. He currently handles 10 such programs, including the Golden Globes and the Grammy Awards.
“I like to bill the Globes as the Oscars meets the Emmys,” he adds, pointing out how stations are fighting for the rights in places as remote as Sri Lanka. “For another thing, the show is fun, and that translates abroad, too.”
Among his clients for the Globes are U.K.’s Livingtv, Ireland’s RTE, Oz’s Ten and Japan’s NHK. The show has even become a mainstay on CCTV in China.
But Haber’s philosophy is that it’s more important to get visibility for a show than to hold out for a fatter license fee.
“It’s not about generating the last dollar,” Haber says, explaining why he went ahead and did a deal in Haiti for the Grammys even at a $200 license fee. “It’s about getting the show on the air, so folks can see what the talent is doing. Visibility is important, too.”