NBC Universal buys Carnival

U.K. production house sold for $55.5 million

LONDON — Making its first move into British TV production, NBC Universal has acquiring drama specialist Carnival, whose hits include “Hotel Babylon,” for an estimated £30 million ($55.5 million).

NBC U’s London-based international production division, set up last year by longtime NBC exec Angela Bromstad, made the deal. Acquisition reps another milestone in the conglom’s efforts to double revenues generated outside the U.S. by 2010.

NBC U prexy-CEO Jeff Zucker emphasized the conglom’s push to spread its wings by beefing up its production and distribution holdings outside the U.S.

“International growth is one of our key strategic priorities, and that includes boosting our ability to create programming for specific local audiences around the world,” he said. “This acquisition will jumpstart our efforts in the very important U.K. market.”

Carnival, one of Blighty’s longest-surviving indies, has produced some 400 hours of material for TV and the cinema during the past 20 years.

Carnival had very little visibility in the U.S., however, and becoming part of NBC U will provide the producer with much-needed muscle in the American market.

Peacock is already likely to put Carnival to work producing the midseason NBC skein “Philanthropist” for Universal Media Studios. That project, which remains contingent on securing a lead thesp, is expected to be shot by UMS in the U.K. — and now the company has the infrastructure to do just that.

Besides current hit skeins like “Hotel Babylon” — now airing in the U.S. on cable web BBC America — Carnival boosts an impressive back catalog, with rights to “Poirot,” “Traffik” and “Jeeves and Wooster.”

“Acquiring Carnival is the cornerstone of what we want to do outside the U.S.,” Bromstad said. “The U.K. is a huge market with a very large talent pool. We are no longer solely focused on Hollywood and waiting passively for the talent to come to us.”

Carnival in recent months was linked with a possible sale to both ITV and BBC Worldwide, so NBC U will be especially pleased to have clinched the deal.

The shingle is 75% owned by Australian combo Southern Star, with the remaining equity held by CEO Gareth Neame. Southern Star announced it had accepted between $37 million and $40.7 million for its stake, but NBC U declined to be specific regarding the pricetag.

The deal includes distribution rights held by Southern Star.

As the eyes and ears of NBC U’s TV production overseas, Bromstad has spent the past year pursuing production alliances in the U.K. and across the globe. Studio is already partnered with broadcasters in Russia and France in developing local versions of the “Law & Order” franchise; a U.K. “Law & Order,” produced by Kudos, is currently being cast and will be shot this fall.

“The U.K. is a huge market with a very large talent pool,” Bromstad told Daily Variety. Neame, who joined Carnival in December 2005 from the BBC, where he helped modernize its flagging drama department by nurturing shows like “Spooks” (aka “MI-5” Stateside), will remain aboard.

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