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Domestic hits find global homes with local flavor

Showman of the Year 2012: A+E Networks

The World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop may be located in Las Vegas, but as it turns out, the name is no misnomer. Thanks to the success of “Pawn Stars” and A+E Intl.’s reach, the store truly has a global fandom.

“If you have to pick one show that stands out, that would be the one,” says Tom Davidson, managing director of A+E Networks U.K., noting that the History series is in many territories the No. 1 export from A+E. It appears around the world, in places as diverse as England, Poland and sub-Saharan Africa.

“It’s got a classic history element, great characters, and a consistent humor,” Davidson says. “It was fresh and surprising to audiences.”

International versions of A+E’s channels, which include History, Crime & Investigation and Bio, have been rolling out overseas since 1995, and their success has made the portfolio the No. 1 brand in the world, surpassing even Discovery, according to president-CEO Abbe Raven.

“Our programming has a core to it that really speaks to people around the world,” she says.

A+E’s portfolio is now broadcast in 37 languages to more than 300 million households on 54 channels in 153 countries, says Sean Cohan, exec VP of international. It’s the result of years of careful planning, in which the group has linked with plugged-in partners, who bring infrastructure, relationships, local knowledge and captive distribution to the table.

All of A+E’s channels have output deals, Davidson adds: “It’s very systematic, and our channels have access to just about all of our U.S. production.”

International may make up roughly 10% of A+E’s profitability right now, but thanks to long-term thinking both in the past and currently, it will be an increasingly important source of growth in the coming years.

First, A+E benefits because it owns the vast majority of its content, unlike other major cablers. Second, as it has ventured into various territories, the network insists that the show take on a local flavor.

“They’ve thought hard about finding programming that’s going to resonate with a young Indian audience,” says Nicola Bamford, chief content and business development officer at India’s TeleSky. The History channel in India, which now reaches around 60 million subscribers, “is taking the best of their international content and augmenting it with local content.”

More recently, notes Cohan, co-prods between territories have begun to spring up: “The Eleventh Day” was a recent German-Israeli production about the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre. A+E owns a piece of the project and is a production partner.

“We’re starting to see the real fruit of localization,” Cohan says.