Adaptations, telenovelas keeping syndicators busy

Region proves fertile ground as advertisers, TV partners assure all they're in it for the long haul

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To appreciate how important Eastern Europe is to U.S. TV studios, look no farther than Budapest last June. This year's DISCOP, the event at which shows are bought for Central and Eastern European markets, was attended by 47 U.S. content providers, up 38% from a year ago.

The National Association of Television Programming Executives purchased DISCOP earlier this year because Eastern Europe is one of the hot emerging markets for U.S. TV shows. The number of buyers at the gathering grew 50% from a year ago, DISCOP says.

Those figures underscore the growing importance of the Eastern European market for TV shows. Prospects are growing, buoyed by improving economies, post-Communist political freedom, and the stability that the European Union and its currency have brought to the region. Ad dollars are rising so buyers have got the ability to procure a "Law & Order," "Lost" or the licensing rights to format a U.S. show into a local version.

Locally produced content, including formats adapted from the U.S., is among the strongest fare right now. The market for licensing deals involving foreign shows in Central and Eastern Europe is approaching $1 billion, says Patrick Jucaud, founding manager of DISCOP. That figure has more than doubled in the last five years.

The reasons are elementary. "You can buy shows when you can afford to pay for them and have a place to put them and people will advertise," says Rick Feldman, CEO of NATPE.

In June, Rupert Murdoch invested in a Polish TV station. The number of outlets for content, such as cable and regional TV stations, continues to tick upward, Mr. Jucaud says. The region has seen growth with new cable and digital channels, adds Armando Nunez Jr., president, CBS Paramount International Television.

As a result of the market growth, advertisers are plunking more dollars into Eastern Europe, and U.S. studios are paying more attention. NBC Universal International Television Distribution opened a Moscow office early this year and just inked a format deal for "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" to co-produce Russian versions. The shows will initially adapt U.S. scripts, taking into account language, culture and the local justice system.

Production of content in Russia "is in hyperdrive," says Barry Cupples, CEO-Central and Eastern Europe for OMD Europe.

In the last few years, as the overall economy has become more stable, Eastern Europe has become a more attractive place to do business, says Keith LeGoy, exec VP-distribution at Sony Pictures Television International.

"Advertisers and broadcasters are more willing to invest in the long term," Mr. LeGoy says.

The most successful U.S. series, according to L szl¢ Palincs r, board director with Initiative in Hungary, are shows that are hits in the U.S., such as "NCIS," "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "ER," "House," "Desperate Housewives" and "Sex & the City."

Daytime telenovelas "produced amazing results" through the mid- to late 1990s, Mr. Cupples says, and are now making a "resurgent comback." Locally made soap operas and American movies still top the ratings in most Eastern European countries, Mr. Palincs r says. For instance, one of the biggest hits in Hungary is the reality show "Gyozike" and another is the daily soap "Baratok Kozt," he says.

During June's L.A. Screenings, in which international buyers check out the U.S. fall lineup, buyers expressed strong interest in NBC's "Kidnapped," which will premiere in some Eastern European countries next spring, Mr. LeGoy says. Mr. LeGoy expects "Kidnapped," produced by Sony, to be in every Eastern European country.

Existing hits in Eastern Europe include "The Nanny," both the U.S. show and localized versions, Mr. LeGoy says. American humor can often be lost in translation, making sitcoms a tougher sell abroad, but "The Nanny's" Cinderella story has crossed the seas, especially when localized. "So you can get the local references, humor," he says. "Then you ... give it a second life."
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