BBC launched show in U.K. 21 years ago

LONDON — Battling terrestrial web Five has won the U.K. rights to seasoned Antipodean soap “Neighbours” in a three-horse race that has seen the price tag for the program soar.

A miffed BBC, which launched the show in Blighty 21 years ago, took the unusual step of saying the price demanded by distributor Fremantle would have involved an outlay of £300 million ($591 million) over 10 years.

ITV, the U.K.’s biggest private terrestrial web, will be furious that it failed to outbid Five, whose owner RTL also owns Fremantle.

It is hard to overstate Five’s coup in seizing “Neighbours” following protracted and sometimes sour negotiations between Fremantle and the BBC.

Winning the rights is a personal victory for Five CEO Jane Lighting, who needs to turn around the fortunes of the station.

She said: “‘Neighbours’ is a fantastic asset for us to add to Five’s family of channels, particularly as it is a household brand which delivers strong audiences daily.”

In fact, the sudsta has been a ratings banker for the BBC since the pubcaster launched it as part of its BBC1 daytime schedule 21 years ago.

BBC 1 controller Peter Fincham said it was a “sad day” for the channel.

“Neighbours” will disappear from BBC1 next spring when the present contract expires.

The BBC said in a statement released Friday: “We have this afternoon formally withdrawn from the bidding for ‘Neighbours.'”

“The BBC has had a long and fruitful relationship with ‘Neighbours,’ which has transmitted on BBC1 for 21 years, and this has come to an end because of an unrealistic price demand.

“We do not believe that we could have justified to BBC viewers a price tag of what would have amounted to some £300 million across the term of the contract. Paying that sum would also have compromised our ability to invest in new original programs. We made a fair offer and are sad that we have not been able to reach terms with Fremantle.”

During the negotiations BBC buyers privately accused Fremantle of being “unrealistic and greedy.”

ITV insiders will argue that Five secured “Neighbours” because it was in RTL’s interest to ensure the show ended up on Five, which needs to raise its game.

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