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CBS heavyweights talk summer strategy

MIPCOM: Summer is the new fall, it appears, as CBS Studios’ top two executives talked up their new short-run summer drama in Cannes yesterday.

Armando Nuñez, president and CEO of CBS Global Distribution Group, and David Stapf, president of CBS TV Studios, told Mipcom delegates the days of leaving summer to re-runs and reality while cable steals a march with its new dramas were over.

The success CBS has had with straight-to-series commission Under the Dome has seen to that, according to the execs. The Amblin Television show not only rated well in the low-HUT months but also sold to Amazon Prime after its CBS run, showing there is an off-net market for such highly serialised drama.

The Eye network has repeated the pilot-dodging strategy with 13-part Halle Berry sci-fi drama Extant this past summer, also from Amblin, and CBS recently renewed both shows for 2015.

Stapf’s studio is also producing another short-run drama for next year called Zoo. With an off-net streaming deal already agreed with Netflix, the show is being adapted from the James Patterson novel of the same name.

“Zoo is based on the Patterson novel that asks, what if animals around the world could communicate with each other? In this case, they can and they’re angry,” Stapf said.

Nevertheless, programming the warmer months is not without its challenges. Regarding Under the Dome, Stapf said: “Yes it was serialised, it was expensive. It didn’t necessarily fit in the normal summer season, which isn’t normal anymore. Yet we had to do it. It was too good a project not to do.”

On the distribution side of the equation, Nuñez said the 13-episode drama format isn’t something international buyers were used to. “Broadcasters prefer 22-episode orders so they can really sink their teeth into the marketing and promotion and play out over a longer period of time.”

Nevertheless, he said that international buyers are now more used to seasons shorter than the traditional 22- or 24-episode ones that US networks historically built their business models on.

“The challenge was explaining to our clients that we’re going to do a big budget event series over the summer. US broadcasters usually don’t put their best programming on in the summer,” Nuñez said.

Nuñez was also pragmatic about the impact subscription video-on-demand has had on the industry. “Windowing deals are what we do for a living and the introduction of these digital platforms is really just another form of windowing.

“The pricing will determine how the windows take place and how exclusivity is granted. There’s now a pipe out there for almost every genre of content.”

CBS Studios this week announced a bunch of sales for its new dramas Scorpion, CSI: Cyber and NCIS: New Orleans, with deals in the UK, Latin America, Germany, France and Asia-Pacific.

Stapf’s studio is also developing a US version of Finnish drama Black Widows under a remake deal agreed with UK distributor DRG, as C21 reported yesterday.

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