International TV Buyers Want WalMart Prices

This week is the LA Screenings, when buyers from networks worldwide come to Los Angeles to see pilots and buy the broadcast rights to new series for their countries. These sales are important to the U.S. studios. They help the studios recoup the difference between the network license fees (what CBS, ABC, etc. pay to air the shows) and the actual production costs (which are considerably more). The problem is, networks worldwide are in deep financial trouble. Although it's usually cheaper for foreign networks to buy U.S. stuff rather than produce their own, home-grown fare, they still don't have the cash to spend on a shopping spree. Variety reports:

Twentieth global TV head Marion Edwards said she's concerned that the U.K. market, after years of high spending and bidding wars, is scaling back in a big way, especially after a weak 2008 Screenings.

"Sky buys a lot of shows, as do Channel 4 and Five, but not last year. ITV is the wildcard," she explained. "They've all announced they'll slash programming budgets and won't buy U.S. programming. We'll have to take the temperatures. The market has gotten very tough."

The Los Angeles Times reports that 1400 buyers came this year…one hundred less than last year. And those who've shown up have a lot less money to spend.

Asked where the most challenging markets will be, Jeffrey R. Schlesinger, who oversees international television for the studio, didn't even need a pause. "Unfortunately, the answer is everywhere." The Canadian buyers had already passed through the lot Sunday with much smaller wallets than usual. "Prices were not at the level of the past two years," Schlesinger observed. The United Kingdom and Australia are also challenged. While lots of new buyers have emerged recently most don't have the deep pockets of the entrenched networks.

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