Shared-rights deal benefits La Sexta

'Mentalist,' 'Cold Case' rights go to network

MADRID — Watch a soccer match on tyro Spanish commercial broadcaster La Sexta these days and you’ll see Simon Baker smiling at the bottom of the TV screen as part of a massive push for “The Mentalist,” which bows on the web beginning in January.

Most U.S. dramas are tied down in Spain by exclusive, long-term deals between the majors and established broadcasters, so “Mentalist” winding up on La Sexta is unusual.

Pubcaster RTVE and regional net Forta share a multiyear TV deal with Warner Bros. Intl. Television, which sells “The Mentalist” overseas.

The hottest fall rookie ended up on La Sexta after RTVE authorized the web to negotiate directly with WB on one skein this year, plus a catalogue series title.

Apart from “Mentalist,” La Sexta took shared free-to-air rights to “Cold Case.”

The deal makes sense. RTVE skews old. U.S. dramas “The O.C.” and “Lost” underperformed on the pubcaster. La Sexta’s youth demo fits “The Mentalist.”

“Whenever an opportunity like this presents itself, we’re certainly willing to explore it,” explains Jose Abad, senior VP over Southern Europe for WBIT Distribution.

La Sexta CEO Jose Miguel Contreras believes such shared acquisition deals will increase.

La Sexta’s already a keen practitioner. It teamed with Sony’s nationwide digital channel SET to negotiate jointly with NBC U on broadcast rights to Tina Fey comedy “30 Rock.” And it licensed action skein “JAG” from network rival Antena 3 TV and Germany’s Beta Film.

The deals also illustrate the out-of-the-box thinking at Spain’s most singular broadcaster.

Launched in March 2006, La Sexta is still growing its share despite a shrinking broadcast market. Its 6.4% November share was 1.5 points up on a year ago.

It’s controlled by a Spanish TV and film producer, Imagina, allying with Mexico’s giant Televisa. But rather than telenovelas or domestic fiction, the lion’s share of La Sexta’s coin goes to sport rights, especially local soccer and Formula One racing.

It’s an active buyer of U.S. dramas, including “Prison Break,” “The Unit,” “Bones,” “NCIS” and “Shark,” that target its predominantly male demos.

And while most European broadcasters are still mulling how to react to the recession, La Sexta, facing a 14% plunge in Spanish TV advertising this year, is clear that acquisitions and shared-rights deals will play a significant part in its hard-times strategy.

It’s inked with Paramount Pictures on a 30-feature package that includes “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” “The Truman Show,” “Zoolander” and “The Saint.”

And it’s stepped up again with RTVE to joint buy “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy from indie distribber Aurum.

“Multilateral deals allow us access to quality product at a contained price,” says acquisitions head Sergio Ramos.

As Spain hurts from recession, expect more shared-rights deals to follow.

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