Discovery Networks Europe and British broadcaster Channel 4 signed a two-year, US$16-million first-look agreement for factual programming in mid-January, a landmark pact with ramifications beyond the United Kingdom.
Effective April 1, the renewable contract gives Discovery’s U.K. channels a guaranteed first option to acquire non-terrestrial broadcast rights to C4′s non-fiction output, as well as a first-option on coproductions. The agreement also has Discovery acquiring more than 200 hours a year in new factual programming that airs first on C4. And, it lets Discovery dip into C4′s back catalog.
Michael Fleisher, director of business affairs at Channel 4 International, the London-based broadcaster’s distribution operation, says the deal represents ‘great commercial potential’ for C4′s documentaries. ‘It’s an example of where the aggregation of rights in one party allows us to enter into an agreement with such advantageous terms,’ Fleisher says.
For its part, C4 gets the first option to coproduce an undisclosed amount of factual programming in the U.S. with Discovery Channel and TLC. ‘We’re excited about the coproduction side of the deal,’ says David Abraham, GM of Discovery U.K. He says Discovery is keen to join the ‘buy-in process’ at Channel 4 ‘at a higher level.’
The agreement solidifies a business relationship that had been lucrative for years, yet was ‘managed on an ad hoc basis,’ says Abraham. It also comes at a good time for both companies. ‘Everyone is aware that ad sales are tougher than they used to be, so everyone is looking to maximize the investment on-screen,’ Abraham explains.
A key aspect of the agreement is a narrower transmission window. Abraham explains that whereas Discovery sometimes had to wait several months before transmitting an acquisition from C4, the delay could now be a few weeks.
As for the ramifications on the U.K. independent sector of Discovery’s new contract clause, which prohibits coproductions from being sold to National Geographic for five years (see RealScreen, January 2003), Fleisher says ‘[Discovery] was flexible with that,’ though he declined to go into detail. Says Abraham, ‘The main objectives of this deal operate on a different area altogether.’