An expense account

Brit: U.S. shows too pricey

A British TV exec has warned that if the prices paid for U.S. shows in the U.K. go any higher, his web will drop them from its schedules.

Channel 4 acquisitions topper Jeff Ford recently pulled out of a bidding war with satcaster BSkyB’s flagship channel Sky One for seasons three and four of Disney’s “Lost,” sold for a reputed £975,000 ($1.86 million) an episode.

He said that such huge license fees could force him to review the role U.S. fare plays in C4’s portfolio.

“Acquisitions always used to be there (in our schedules) because they enabled us to afford to do other (more expensive) things,” Ford said. “If they get more expensive, we are going to have to say goodbye to them.”

U.S. shows have shored up C4’s sked since its launch more than 20 years ago, especially on Friday nights, when “Friends,” “Frasier” and “The Simpsons” have all scored well.

As part of a first-look deal with Disney, C4 snapped up the first two seasons of “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” for a fraction of the price forked out last month.

While Sky One poached “Lost,” C4 retained exclusive U.K. rights to “Desperate Housewives.”

However, a bidding war with ITV, Sky One and Flextech pushed the “Housewives” price up to the same level as Sky paid for “Lost” — record fees for imported shows in the U.K.

Four’s program topper, Kevin Lygo, said he walked away from the bidding war for “Lost.” Under the terms of its deal with Disney, C4 had the right to match any competing bid, but the web could not afford to shell out for both “Lost” and “Housewives.”

“We chose ‘Desperate Housewives’ because it performs better for us,” Lygo said. “The ratings for ‘Lost’ have started to fall dramatically — from six million to 1.8 million — so it wasn’t worth digging deep into our pockets.”

Ford predicted that “Lost” would bomb on Sky. “It’ll do well in the first week, but the ratings will then fall away as they always do on Sky One.”

Ford and Lygo were speaking at C4’s winter schedule launch, which features U.S. skein “Ugly Betty” and a lineup of original fare including satirical drama “The Trial of Tony Blair,” in which Robert Lindsay reprises his role as the British prime minister.

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