Cannes, France -- Both North American programmers on
international-expansion surges and some surprising overseas tortoises dropped word of new
projects at the MIP-TV program market, held here last week.
Columbia TriStar International Television officials
reported impending multiple-channel launches in Japan and Latin America. MTV Networks is
replacing its European feed in Russia with a country-specific version, making it the first
Western service to do so. MTV is also launching a new Nordic feed -- its fifth dedicated
feed in Europe.
Networks newer to the international scene also emerged with
deals at MIP. National Geographic Television announced a launch in Poland, and Fox Kids
Europe Ltd. announced one in Spain. Each of those two networks has rapidly expanded into
more than a half-dozen European markets over the last year.
"And we're only accelerating, I can tell
you," said Ynon Kreiz, managing director of Fox Kids Europe.
Meanwhile, two North American programmers that haven't
been known for aggressive international expansion -- Canada's ChumCity International
and Lifetime Television of the United States -- also detailed new projects at the market.
Columbia plans to launch several services in Japan and
Latin America. The plans for Japan aren't entirely surprising since its owner, Sony
Corp., also has an investment in the Perfect Sky direct-to-home platform there. Still, the
extent of the plans is unprecedented for Columbia.
Michael Grindon, president of the international Columbia
unit, said, "More than three" services are on the drawing board. A version of
its action-adventure channel, AXN, is fairly likely.
Columbia has also expanded abroad with its Sony
Entertainment Television general-entertainment channel. While not revealing any specific
details, Grindon noted that Columbia's library strengths include soap operas and talk
shows. It also could expand internationally with Game Show Network, its channel that was
born and bred in the States.
In Latin America, Columbia is seeking to capitalize on its
recent investment in U.S. Hispanic broadcaster Telemundo Group Inc. and its established
partnership with HBO Olé, home of the SET channel in that region. Sources also reported
that Sony is negotiating to acquire Spelling Entertainment's Tele-UNO channel with
the idea of converting it into an AXN channel.
An Indian version of AXN is also anticipated during the
"We'll launch a half-dozen new channel ventures
this year," Grindon said, speaking about Columbia's overall network expansion
across the world.
Over at ChumCity, Stephen Tapp, the company's vice
president and general manager, reported on the first international-format-licensing deal
for Chum's cornerstone channel, CityTV.
The format was sold to one of Brazil's leading
broadcast groups, Rede Bandeirantes. The Brazilian company is converting one of its two
UHF outlets in Sao Paulo -- channel 21 -- to a CityTV-styled service. Because the pay
TV-penetration rate in Brazil's largest city is still only about 8 percent while the
total number of households in the market is almost 5 million, a broadcast deal was
particularly appealing to Chum.
Other sources said the Bandeirantes deal could widen to
involve other thematic channels, conceivably on Bandeirantes' other UHF outlet in the
market. In addition to City and MuchMusic, Chum is also starting to market its newly
created local-news channel, CP24, abroad. That service, which launched in January, is
specific to the Toronto market.
In Finland, Chum is broadening its relationship with an
established partner, Alma TV Media Group, by applying for a license to operate a VHF
outlet with an eye toward creating a CityTV channel in that country. One of Alma's
two equity partners, broadcast outlet MTV3 (no relation to MTV: Music Television),
programs a block of MuchMusic-formatted programming under the rubric "Jyrki."
The deal in Brazil and the further foray in Finland marked
the first expansion for Chum in about two years. In addition to the Finnish blocks, Chum
has already expanded its MuchMusic channel into the United States and Argentina.
Although Chum is also eyeing further inroads into other
Nordic countries, as well as into Central Europe, speed is not that important to the
company, Tapp said.
"We have a very flexible approach to our expansion. We
don't have to be somewhere [in a hurry]," he said.
The terrestrial expansion has its advantages at a time when
gaining carriage on cable systems is becoming increasingly difficult, he added.
In a similarly slow mode is Lifetime. It made its first
concerted effort to sell blocks of programming on the international circuit at this
year's MIP-TV. Patrick Gray, Lifetime's senior vice president of business and
legal affairs and general counsel, explained that the wait was a necessary evil. Until
recently, the network hadn't accumulated a large enough body of original programming
with worldwide licensing rights to make a go of the overseas market.
"We are most ready now," he said. "We can
talk about Lifetime-branded strands ... and have more credibility."
Stephen Stim, principal of Stim Media Consultants,
who's helping Lifetime with the new effort, explained that the blocks of shows that
Lifetime can offer to international channels total some 3,000 hours in genres ranging from
child-raising to celebrity documentaries.
William Mahoney in London contributed to this report.