Studio increases international focus

The Mouse House is building new wings all over the world and discovering fresh ways to dice up its cheese.

Disney execs unveiled Monday a raft of deals at Mip TV that spanned the globe and underlined the company’s increasingly international focus. The pacts include the following:

  • A deal with Colombian broadcaster RCN to produce Spanish-language versions of ABC hits “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Brothers & Sisters.”

  • A multiyear licensing deal with Russian broadcaster CTC Media.

  • A renewal of its free-to-air output agreement with Germany’s powerhouse ProSiebenSat1 Group.

  • A deal to license reality skein “The Fashionista Diaries” to U.K. broadcaster Five’s digital channel the Fiver.

  • Acquisition of Aardman Animations’ stop-motion kidvid series “Timmy” for Disney Channel outlets in North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region.

What’s more, Disney’s top brass said the flurry of activity unveiled Monday only scratches the surface of the company’s long-term plans for expansion into international markets. The emerging territories most on Disney’s radar: Russia, Turkey, Africa and the Middle East.

But Disney wasn’t the only U.S. major making headlines on the opening day of Mip. Warner Bros. Intl. Television and HBO unveiled a first-of-its-kind deal to license pics to France Telecom’s newly announced premium pay TV platform Orange Cinema Service.

Yet Disney’s global push is still noteworthy among its rivals, in part because so many of the company’s franchises are highly exportable, particularly in the kidvid arena.

At last year’s L.A. Screenings, Disney-ABC made a commitment to its international buyers to deliver content much faster. Since 2006, two months have been shaved off the dubbing process, with shows that used to be ready in March now delivered by early January. As for the English-language version of Disney skeins, they will now be ready a mere 24 hours after their U.S. broadcast. 

An announcement is expected in the coming days about a major licensing agreement with a Middle Eastern satcaster, most likely either UAE-based Dubai TV or MBC, both of whom already have deals in place with Disney.

Dubai TV is bowing local-language versions of Disney productions “The Kids Are Alright” and “Spelling Bees” in May. That follows local-language versions of “The Golden Girls” in Greece and Russia, as well as “Hope and Faith” in Turkey.

“There is so much opportunity for our business out there,” said Tom Toumazis, exec veep and managing director of Disney-ABC Intl. Television for Europe, the Mideast, Africa and Canada.

Disney plans to establish satellite offices in Istanbul, Dubai and Johannesburg, he added.

As for Russia, Disney-ABC Intl. already has an office of four people in the rapidly growing territory. Over the past seven years, business for the Mouse House in the former Communist state has grown 25-fold, with some forecasts estimating Disney will further double its business there in the next five years.

According to ZenithOptimedia, Russia will be the world’s third-largest TV ad market in 2010, at $8.83 billion, just ahead of China at $8.71 billion. That’s up from sixth place in 2008.

Disney’s CTC Media accord covers features, including the first two installments of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Cars” and “The Incredibles,” as well as live-action and animated series and made-fors.

Disney previously inked three-year licensing deal with CTC Media from 2004. Given the growth of the Russian market and the scale of Disney’s portfolio, the new CTC deal looks to be considerably larger. Disney will supply CTC’s 2-4 p.m. kids animated series block with evergreen faves such as “Aladdin,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Ducktales.”

The ProSieben renewal also sees Disney extending the range and depth of multiplatform deals, adding movie subscription VOD and transactional VOD for series including “Lost” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Renewal also encompasses features such as “Pirates of Caribbean: At World’s End” and new ABC skeins including “Private Practice” and “Dirty Sexy Money.”

In Colombia, Vista Prods. will handle production of ABC Studios’ “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Brothers & Sisters” redos for broadcaster RCN.

Crossing borders

Crossing borders has been a recurring theme at this year’s Mip TV. Shine Group CEO Elisabeth Murdoch was all business as she flew into town Monday for less than a day to deliver the keynote address.

Dubbed “Creativity Without Borders,” the speech was a personal account of her ascent from the Palais market basement as a lowly acquisitions exec at the newly launched FX channel in 1994 to her newly crowned position as topper at indie powerhouse Shine Group, now the fourth-largest U.K. producer thanks to canny acquisitions of shingles Kudos, Firefly and Princess Prods.

“I am a child of this market, and it has had a huge influence on me,” said Murdoch before praising Sony’s pursuit of international co-productions. “The ever-improving economic climate in emerging territories is proving incredibly fertile territory for the Sony back catalog of sitcoms. (Sony is an investor in Murdoch’s Shine Group.)

“‘The Jeffersons,’ ‘Married… With Children,’ ‘Mad About You,’ ‘The Nanny,’ all have successful incarnations in countries as diverse as Colombia, Chile, India and Russia. Who would have thought that new upward mobility in Chile would mean that the comedic situation of George and Louise resonates in Santiago as it did in the early ’70s in the United States?” Murdoch said.

At times displaying formidable composure in the face of some left-field questions — the inevitable one about the benefits of being born a Murdoch was followed by one plea from a grown woman to adopt her — Murdoch sent out a missive to her competitors.

“This is only the beginning,” she told journos in an intimate confab afterward, commenting that future acquisitions are likely to come from international territories, possibly India and Australia.

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