Brit TV licensing biz soars 121%

Programming sales dip

LONDON — A massive surge in merchandising sales offset a near 11% drop in programming sales for the British TV industry internationally in 1999, boosting total exports almost 6% to £380 million ($532 million).

Figures to be released today at the first-ever conference of the British Television Distributors Assn. show the licensing biz was up 121% to $102 million. Programming sales totaled $338 million, down from $378.5 million in 1998.

Leading the merchandising charge was BBC Worldwide, the BBC’s commercial division, with “Teletubbies,” “Tweenies” and “Walking With Dinosaurs.” Another strong performer was Hit Entertainment’s “Bob the Builder.”

The BBC is under fire from commercial broadcasters for its growing emphasis on children’s programming. Of particular concern is the Beeb’s plan to launch two kids’ channels.

Format sales down

Meanwhile, video sales were up 47% to $38 million. Surprisingly, format sales fell 10% to $9 million even as British formats such as “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” are circumventing the globe.

Overall sales to the U.S., Britain’s biggest market, were up 14% to $163 million. Australia/New Zealand, the No. 2 territory for British TV, accounted for $61 million, up 17%.

Crossing a greater cultural divide were Spain, where sales were up 23% to $22 million, and Italy, up 16% to $18 million. Sales to Asia, however, declined 10% to $45 million, and Latin America was down 18% to $14 million.

‘Queer’ scores

Among the new shows that caught the imagination of overseas buyers were Channel 4’s gay drama “Queer as Folk” (10 markets, including the U.S.) and female sketch comedy show “Smack the Pony” (17 markets, including the U.S.).

Producer Itel scored with the kids show “Foxbusters” (20 markets) and United News & Media with Emmy-winning costumer “Hornblower” (20 markets).

Granada Media connected with thirtysomething drama “Cold Feet,” also sold to 20 markets.

Today’s conference, titled “Brit TV: The Global Challenge,” focuses on how to build the U.K.’s share of the international TV market.

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