The return of “The X-Files” and the reboot of “Rush Hour” stirred strong buzz among the nearly 2,000 international television buyers who converged in Los Angeles this week for the annual L.A. Screenings program market.
Sony Pictures TV International had a strong response to its Amazon Studios drama “Mad Dogs,” as did CBS Studios International for its action-thriller “Limitless.”
Buyers made the rounds of studio screenings and parties throughout the week to get a first look at series that have been picked up by broadcast networks for the 2015-16 season, as well as new cable and digital productions.
The marathon week started Sunday with Disney’s presentation of a dozen new series, ranging from ABC’s revival of “The Muppets” to the “Criminal Minds” spinoff “Beyond Borders.”
For most buyers, the screenings are the first step in dealmaking negotiations that are finalized later. But some put their money on the table right away. Canada’s CTV scooped up Warner Bros.’ dramas “Blindspot,” “D.C.’s Legends of Tomorrow” and “Lucifer” along with Disney Media Distribution’s dramas “Quantico,” “Code Black,” “Oil” and “The Catch.”
One of the most challenging aspects of international TV licensing for Hollywood’s majors is sorting through options for linear and digital licensing in various markets. The digital rights are an entirely separate animal than the linear rights, and those rights have increased in value as the number of regional outlets has expanded. Digital buyers are a growing component of L.A. Screenings attendees.
Armando Nunez, president of CBS Global Distribution Group, notes that CBS did more business last year with local digital distributors outside the U.S. than it did with the international arms of Netflix and Amazon combined.
The conversations with buyers this year underscore how much the established international outlets are facing the same pressure to adapt in the multiplatform world as the largest U.S. TV players, Nunez said.
“Everyone is mindful of the evolving nature of our business,” he said. “That means (considering) the question of how traditional platforms are going to link or not link with nontraditional platforms, how local SVOD platforms are rolling out shows and what the potential effect is on both sides of the fence.”
From the studio perspective, windowing in international markets all comes down to a question of price. “The continued expansion of platforms for premium content has obviously been a good thing for us,” Nunez said. “The question of windowing becomes a pricing discussion and an exclusivity discussion.”
Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution has a brewing bidding war on its hands for the limited-series reboot of “The X-Files.” The series was a massive international hit in its 1990s heyday, which means that Fox has the opportunity to cut a slew of new licensing agreements for the new episodes as well as the library of 201 episodes that aired on Fox from 1993-2002.
There’s extra goodwill out there for “X-Files” because the show hit at a time when a number of private channels were just getting off the ground in territories that had previously only had a handful of TV options. France’s M6 is a good example of a channel that was put on the map by having “X-Files,” according to Marion Edwards, president of international TV for 20th Century Fox TV Distribution.
“We are putting together a strategy to see how best to introduce ‘The X-Files’ to a new generation of viewers because it’s been off the air for a number of years,” Edwards said. “We really have to take a careful approach with a franchise that has this level of importance to our studio. We’re talking to a lot of people who had the franchise initially and deciding what the best course of action will be.”
Jeffrey Schlesinger, Warner Bros. Worldwide Television Distribution president, was pleasantly surprised by the intensity of the interest in “Rush Hour,” the comedic action-drama for CBS that revisits the successful Jackie Chan-Chris Tucker film franchise.
The appeal stems from its simple procedural premise — in contrast to a sea of dark, twisty, plot-driven serials — and its escapist tone that is “the flavor of the day,” Schlesinger said. He also praised the execution of the pilot by comedy vets Bill Lawrence and Blake McCormick.
“Every country without exception wanted to talk to us about ‘Rush Hour,’ ” he said. “They all said, ‘We know what it is, we know how to program it, we know it will repeat well.’ “
Dramas “Lucifer” and “D.C.’s Legends of Tomorrow,” produced for Fox and CW, respectively, were also strong draws for many buyers. “Legends” is drafting off the success WB has had internationally with “The Flash” and “Arrow,” which hail from the same Greg Berlanti-led production team.
Like Edwards, Schlesinger noted that the needs of L.A. Screenings attendees have changed over the past decade, as even the newer international channels have boosted the quantity and quality of locally produced programs on their air. But glossy U.S. imports are still a crucial part of the mix.
“There’s still a very strong appetite for top-tier U.S. programming,” Schlesinger said. “People are still looking for the shows that will work in their markets. These shows still serve a very strong purpose on their schedules.”
The growth of overseas options has also helped allow Hollywood’s largest studios to invest in edgier dramas with niche appeal. The new SVOD outlets popping up all over Europe, Asia and Latin America often have an appetite for quirkier and darker programs, just like their U.S. counterparts, according to Keith LeGoy, Sony Pictures TV’s president of international distribution.
“Because of the multiplicity of buyers in each of the major countries, you’ve got a larger number of people who are looking for those edgier shows, and those are the shows that come off premium pay TV and SVOD platforms,” LeGoy said.
This allows Sony TV to invest in offbeat shows such as “Super Mansion,” an animated half-hour created by Bryan Cranston about the home lives of superheroes. On the other end of the spectrum, Sony’s new NBC actioner “The Player” has natural global appeal as a high-octane procedural that features a well-known star in Wesley Snipes and hot-shot newcomer in Philip Winchester.
Comedies are always a harder sell for Hollywood studios because humor doesn’t travel as well as the murders, betrayals, heists et al. that are the stuff of drama series. But Sony TV’s “Dr. Ken” got some second looks thanks to the recognition factor for star Ken Jeong, who is know for his roles in “The Hangover” movies.
“Mad Dogs,” shepherded by Shawn Ryan, is thriller about a four friends who take a reunion trip to Belize to visit a friend when things go awry. The notable cast — Michael Imperioli, Ben Chaplin, Romany Malco, Steve Zahn and Billy Zane — and the unusual black comedic tone helped it stand out to buyers, LeGoy said. “Mad Dogs” is also a sign of how international/domestic lines are blurring as it was based on a format produced by Left Bank Pictures, the London-based shingle that Sony acquired in 2012.
Left Bank produced the original series for the U.K.’s Sky. Sony TV first developed the property at FX, but it eventually wound up at Amazon. The episodes of the U.S. version will likely wind up licensed to a linear or digital outlet overseas.
“Everybody’s trying to figure out how to take the best content and use it across a range of platforms to maximize the value and the power of he show in their country,” LeGoy said. “A big part of the conversation is how do you really multiply the value of a great show across digital and linear platforms, ad-supported and subscription, to boost the entire value of the eco-system you’re in.”