HBO digging into global distrib biz

Until now, distrib rights were handled by outsiders

In an effort to brand itself more effectively abroad — and clear up confusion about who licenses its product — HBO will henceforth distribute all of its series, movies, minis, docs, boxing matches and assorted specials on a worldwide basis.

Up until now, sibling Warner Bros. handled shows like “The Sopranos” and “Entourage”; docs were distributed by various unaffiliated indies; while “Deadwood” and “Sex and the City” belonged to Paramount internationally and are handled by that company. Even rights to distribute HBO shows to airlines were handled by outsiders.

“Our first aim with foreign clients will be to explain that going forward we’re handling all our own product,” HBO intl. distribution prexy Charles Schreger told Daily Variety.

It’s not, Schreger insisted, that third parties, including sister company Warners, didn’t do an excellent job. “It’s just that we want to control our own destiny,” he said.

It is difficult to ascertain what kind of license fees were paid by foreign broadcasters for, say, “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City.” Both series are cult viewing in several territories, but that doesn’t always translate into big bucks, however.

HBO has traditionally distributed its high-profile miniseries, such as “Angels in America” and “Band of Brothers” — the latter pulled down a stunning $10 million license fee from the BBC a few years ago.

One source said HBO bosses at Time Warner began to notice a couple of years ago that the brand wasn’t being, well, “brandished” well enough because of the disparate distribution arrangements.

Time Warner chieftain Jeff Bewkes recently called for cooperating “adjacencies” among TW units, rather than out-and-out synergies, which also may have spurred the move to autonomy by HBO.

For its part, Warner Bros. handles a huge number of new TV series from its own stable and certainly doesn’t need HBO product to round out its packages or distract from its own output.

To get its message as a high-quality, low-volume single-source distrib across, HBO for the first time will take its own booth at the upcoming Mipcom TV trade show in Cannes under Schreger. (Warner Bros., too, is moving to a different part of the Cannes Palais, with a huge space overlooking the Mediterranean.)

Increasingly, rights to HBO’s farmed-out product will return to Schreger and his team, but Warners will finish out the “Sopranos” licensing since that show has only another year or so of new episodes.

Newish titles on offer from HBO in Cannes include the series “Tell Me You Love Me,” “Lucky Louie” and “Tsunami.”

On the domestic front, HBO hired former Warner Bros. domestic sales maven Scott Carlin two years ago to galvanize its rerun licensing in the U.S., beginning with “Sex and the City.”

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