MediaWorks cuts CBS ties, Prime takes up the slack

MediaWorks TV has confirmed it will be not be renewing its output deal with CBS and is instead shifting the funds into the creation of local content. And Sky’s free-to-air channel Prime has taken over the rights and signed up for its first ever output deal. 

MediaWorks’ current arrangement expires at the end of 2012 and after this time it will not receive new CBS programming, but life-of-series licences mean it will have ongoing contracts for CBS shows like NCIS, CSI, America’s Next Top Model and others like Dr Phil and Entertainment Tonight currently airing on TV3 and Four. It still has output deals with Fox and NBC Universal, however.

Publicity manager Rachel Lorimer wouldn’t specify the cost of the deal but said long term it would mean “millions of extra dollars will go into local production”, including some of the network’s biggest projects to date, The Block NZ (currently in production) and the local version of The X-Factor, which gained momentum this month with the appointment of Andrew Szusterman and John McDonald as project leaders.

“Viewers are unlikely to notice any change when the current deal comes to an end,” says MediaWorks group managing director Sussan Turner. “[They] will continue to find their favourite programmes onTV3, and our ongoing business with CBS will be significant for some time … TV3 [Four never really had a big local focus, Lorimer says] has evolved to a place where our defining shows are more likely to be local—programmes like  7 Days, The Almighty Johnsons, The Block NZ, and What’s Really in Our Food?. Being New Zealand’s home of local content is where we want to be.”

Of course, local productions are much more expensive to make, and CBS provided a lot of content, so it will struggle to fill the void with them, but Lorimer says they’re also the top raters and, with the network doing well from its focus on integration in shows like The Block and New Zealand’s Next Top Model, they often have more commercial appeal for businesses operating in the local market than regurgitated US shows. Australian networks also appear to be favouring local shows over US content deals.

Lorimer says it’s still unclear what the end of the deal means for its flagship current affairs show 60 Minutes, although she confirmed the show doesn’t have a life-of-series license so the end seems nigh. But when we talked to her about the arrival of international current affairs show Three60 on Sunday mornings, she said even if the 60 Minutes brand did get the heave ho, the network had made a commitment to funding long-form local current affairs.

As for Prime, the multi-year content deal gives it exclusive free-to-air broadcasting rights in New Zealand (CBS shows like Person of Interest and 2 Broke Girls are currently airing on TVNZ channels despite the deal with MediaWorks, seemingly because the networks occasionally offer their big shows independently) to new series the studio produces from the start of the US television season this year.

“Prime has been the only channel in New Zealand without a major studio supply deal and our agreement with CBS Studios International will enhance our current schedule in both primetime and off-peak, allowing us to offer a far greater variety of quality daytime content including talk shows, entertainment news and factual programming,” says Karen Bieleski, head of prime TV. “The addition of top quality American network programmes such as Elementary and Vegas will add enormous value to our existing line up alongside viewer favourites such as Downton Abbey, Doctor Who, Midsomer Murders, Top Gear and True Blood.”

Bieleski said the deal represents a significant commitment to Prime’s future.

“This is a turning point for Prime TV. Over the past six years we have worked hard to rebuild the channel’s financial structure and we are thrilled that we are now further enhancing our commitment to quality free-to-air television in New Zealand with our agreement with CBS Studios International.”

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