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Are European programs underpriced? A touchy subject.

American television programs in Europe generally fetch a slightly higher price than equivalent European shows, but no specific rule applies. Many producers, in fact, argue that the U.S. pricing policy keeps them from getting their full due. The question of whether European TV productions are under-priced when sales are in competition with the Americans, is a sensitive one with European producers and distributors.

It seems to create shudders among some, like Susan Small, the sales chief for Granada in the U.K., who said flatly that this wasn't a subject she could possibly discuss. It leads others - less squeamish about controversy - to bemoan the lack of adequate exportable TV fare, in the face of new European quota regulations.

Nicolas Traube, managing director of France's Hamster Productions, said that, on a "pure sale," it's the Americans who basically set the prices of features. He does distinguish between, for example, the sale of a French program in France and the sale of that same program to Germany or Italy.

"I find that the Americans, counting on volume, tend to sell their shows at very low prices," Traube said. "So, when we go to a network and we try to sell them one of our series, they say: |Yes. We like your series, and we are going to take it, but only at the price level of an American show.'"

Traube indicated that, when the European asking price is well above the normal American price, networks then argue that - for paying more - they should get concessions, such as partial determination of casting, a longer rights period, etc., "to make it look like a pre-sell. I have not seen an American production being sold at higher prices than a European production. When it comes to exports, European programs get about the same price as the Americans, or a little more."

The logic behind comparative pricing isn't always clear. "The Europeans are not panting to see all the American shows they can get," Traube maintained. "Some people make the mistake of thinking that French viewers prefer American productions. That's true at certain times, on certain networks. It is definitely not true in prime time for a large network. If you look at Germany or Italy, the number of American television productions aired in prime time is actually very small."

Germany's Jurgen Wohlrabe, chief of Jugendfilm in Berlin, said that - in Germany at least - his German programs fetched much higher licensing fees than the equivalent American programs. "We have the best contacts," he boasted.

Helmut Thomas, who heads RTL Plus, is quoted as saying that unless the Europeans start to produce with entertainment rather then education and information in mind, "the Americans will attain a monopoly situation, which will allow them to impose their prices." Thoma said that American productions did not enjoy the kind of popularity that justified their prices, "and because of this, they are increasingly supplanted with local productions."

In the U.K., Yorkshire Television's Roy Gibbs acknowledged that pricing was "a continual battle." The American companies, he said, "tend to offer packages, so they sell for less. We are apt to negotiate higher prices, and that's partially, because we are residual-based.

"On the other hand, Americans have so much top material in their catalogues, they can often insist on super fees."

Elfriede Hufnagl, in charge of acquisition and sales for Austria's ORF, didn't think the Americans were getting significantly higher prices than the Europeans. "With our audience, the German-made programs certainly are tops," she said. "There are exceptions, of course. We tend to pay according to value, and according to the time slot."

Jacques Peskine, who heads the Syndicate of Independent French Producers, along with Simone Harrari, the French producer and distributor, both noted that American action shows and series logically command higher prices, "since we rarely produce that type of show."

"When the program content and quality are equal, we certainly get the same money for them," a spokesperson for Harrari noted. Peskine pointed out that, in France, prime time programs generally required a 90-minute length, which typically means either a feature or a variety show. Programs bought by networks on a "pre-sell" basis, normally did much better than the American competition.

Virtually all of the executives interviewed noted the global appeal of the American programs. "It is easier for a German viewer to identify with a U.S. production, simply because it is less shocking than watching a French production, which is likely to be very local," said Traube.

"I don't know whether Europe will allow television to unify it in terms of a concept. A French show looks foreign to a German, or to an Italian, and obviously, that has an impact on the kind of prices the local networks are willing to pay for imports."
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Publication:Video Age International
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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