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Cable Show: U.S. Cablers Seek Viewers Overseas

Discovery’s Zaslav and Viacom’s Dauman point to potential growth in Europe and elsewhere

WASHINGTON — American cable programmers are eyeing growth opportunities abroad as economies in Europe and elsewhere recover.

Discovery Communications has grown its international business very aggressively, president and CEO David Zaslav said on a panel Tuesday at the Cable Show.

“This past year we made more money internationally than we did as a whole company than seven years ago,” he said.

Even with the financial turmoil in Western Europe, Discovery has grown its business 20% in last two years in the region, he said. Two-thirds of the countries where the cabler has a presence are flat or in recession, according to Zaslav: “If those turn around we can really see substantial growth.”

Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman said that while the U.S. economy has been improving, other countries — especially in Europe — have been lagging. However, he said, that’s an opportunity “establish a bigger beachfront” by launching new networks and expanding distribution of existing ones.

Nickeloeon franchises like “SpongeBob” and “Dora the Explorer” work around the world, Dauman said, and Viacom has spinoffs of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” in the U.K. and Spain.

Viacom spends $3 billion annually on television content, Dauman said. “It’s the lifeblood of our industry. We are creating content for all different screens,” he said.

Michael Fries, president and CEO of international cable operator Liberty Global, said demand for cable TV across Europe has been strong despite the economic woes. The company last week closed the $24 billion acquisition of the U.K.’s Virgin Media, giving it 25 million customers principally in 12 European countries.

Liberty Global has better partnerships with European broadcasters and U.S. cablers in terms of the willingness to grant more usage rights, Fries said. “Free-to-air broadcasters in Europe are our best partners for catch-up (television) and VOD,” he said.

Fries noted that Liberty Global is spending less on linear channels and more on on-demand and online rights. As a result, he said content costs are going up 12% this year, while its revenue will increase 5%: “It’s a temporary shift,” he said.

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