Four of the new U.S. primetime network dramas -- Nashville, Beauty and the Beast, Revolution and Last Resort-- are closing in on the last remaining big prize in the international market: sealing a deal with a picky British broadcaster.
And why bother?
Because the license fees paid by the main terrestrial players in that territory are some of the highest that the major Hollywood studios pocket each year. Drama series are by far the most lucrative assets the American studios pitch to the foreign market each year.
On Wednesday morning at Mipcom a deal was closed by Lionsgate for its primetime country-inflected sudser Nashville with Channel Four. The contract for the Connie Britton-Hayden Panettiere vehicle was likely to be officially unveiled later in the day in Cannes by that station's top buyer, Gill Hay. That deal comes on the very day the show launches Stateside on ABC.
And CBS Studios Intl president Armando Nunez confirmed that a deal had been clenched in the U.K. for Beauty and the Beast but added that the announcement would be unveiled by the acquirer next week in London.
The young-skewing series toplining Kristin Kreuk premiers Stateside Thursday on the CW, which Nunez said has effectively broadened the demo appeal of its latest crop of primetime shows. The British buyer of the show is thought to be ITV or C5, but neither could be reached for comment in Cannes.
Meanwhile, over at the Warner Bros. exhibition booth, that major's international president confirmed that its J.J. Abrams hour Revolution is entertaining "multiple bids" in the U.K.
"Despite a few naysayers during the Screenings, look what's happened: The show (on NBC) has grown in the demo from week to week. Sometimes, it's not a bad thing to wait to sell," WBIT's Jeffrey Schlesinger told THR. (The Screenings in May are where foreign program buyers first see the new crop of U.S. network dramas and sitcoms.)
Nearby at the Sony stand that major's head of distribution Keith LeGoy said three different potential customers in Britain were now "highly interested" in his company's hour drama toplining Andre Braugher and created by Shawn Ryan. An eventual deal for Last Resortwas not in doubt, he intimated, pointing to the series performance so far on ABC.
As for the price per episode for such series, no buyer or seller ever officially divulges such a thing, but outside veterans of the biz suggest the top-tier U.S. titles can go for $1 million an episode in that one territory alone. When there's stiff competition, prices can escalate further, and have on occasion, most famously for Desperate Housewives a few years ago; the average fee nowadays though has likely settled around $750,000-$800,000.
Of the five major markets in Europe, the U.K. is essentially the only one where the U.S. majors sell their series piecemeal, one-by-one on the open market. As a general rule, they have locked-in, multi-year output deals in Germany, France, Italy and Spain and hence the dramas (and a few comedies) go to the ongoing broadcast partner in each case in those countries.
To be sure, several of the new fall dramas had already been scooped up during the summer by Sky TV in the U.K., which has emerged as a key outlet there for prime U.S. series. The Rupert Murdoch-owned satcaster snapped up Warners.' Arrowand The Following and CBS Studios Intl.'s Elementary and Vegas back in July; through an output arrangement that player also takes most of HBO's product, including its latest drama Newsroom.
Channel 4, Five and ITV are regular customers as well, with the BBC buying American product only very occasionally.