Two of the UK’s major broadcasters, Channel 4 and Channel 5, have seen internal shake ups in recent months and, as a result of which, both have new acquisitions teams as we head into the LA Screenings. Both broadcasters have been, behind BSkyB, the most prolific buyers of US content, but with these new teams in place could that be about to change?
Yes and no. Channel 4′s acquisition of Rebound (AKA Les Revenants) not withstanding, there is no arguing that acquired US content has long been successful for Channel 4 and its portfolio of channels (C4/E4/More4). The biggest hit has been the CBS/WB series The Big Bang Theory and while, by and large, the company has had its successes with imports (2 Broke Girls and The Good Wife for example), there have been misses. The US adaptation of Shameless is one that has been an ok performer but not a huge hit on digi-channel More4, and AMC’s The Killing, which was successful for Channel 4 in its first season, flopped in its second season (and will no longer appear on Channel 4, with Netflix UK having taken exclusive rights). But this, one insider opined to me, is the nature of the acquisitions game. The shows you bet will be a hit sometimes aren’t and then the ones that are wind up getting cancelled pretty quickly state-side. But even so, I hear that Channel 4, who expect to buy a number of US shows post LA Screenings to fill the void left by cancelled shows such as 90210, are focused on keeping hold of their current imports as well as refreshing the ranks. “We don’t want another Glee on our hands”, that insider commented, referring to the fact the Channel 4 brought the series to the UK only to have BSkyB poach the show with a life-of-series deal. But when it comes to refreshing the ranks, Channel 4 is looking beyond the US market for new content. “There is a lot of promising dramas and comedies coming out of Canada, Australia and across Europe right now”, I’m told. Even so, while they may acquire less than in previous years, I wouldn’t count on Channel 4 shying away from US shows any time soon. After all, when you’ve found a formula that works it’s best not to mess with it.
Channel 5 on the other hand is a little more complex. Their new director of programmes Ben Frow has publicly expressed a desire to make their schedules “less American driven.” That shift has already begun with the recent acquisitions of Australian drama series Wentworth and Irish drama series Love/Hate. Again, I hear similar lines to those coming from Channel 4, with sources opining that there are many more interesting dramas popping up across Europe than in the US. I’m told that if they pick up any new shows after the LA screenings it will be only one or two. Still, the company does have full roster of expensive US imports which have long term commitments (TNT’s Dallas and CBS’ CSI: Crime Scene Investigation being the most notable examples) and they will also be looking to lock down subsequent seasons of top performing shows such of Sons of Anarchy (I hear talks are underway for the rights to season 6), Justified and Once Upon A Time. So while US content will still be key to Channel 5, we may well see an increasing number of scripted programmes from Europe, Australia and Canada pop up on the channel.
It seems clear that both teams are looking less at the US market, though both still recognise the importance of US content to their successes, but even so its not likely to have a deleterious effect on the market. This year’s LA Screenings looks set to have one of the strongest line ups I’ve seen in a few years and even if Channels 4 and 5 are less bullish about US acquisitions, the recent emergence and resurgence of channels such as TLC and ITV2 in this area isn’t likely to effect the profits of the major studios. Things will become clearer once the Screenings are underway and, frankly, I’d be surprised if we don’t see heavy bidding from these two on the likes of S.H.I.E.L.D. But this could well mean that, with these two large free-to-air broadcasters being more hesitant when its comes to US content, more new shows will be winding up on Sky and other pay TV channels. Let the bitching begin.