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U.S. Series Star in Cannes

Demand for U.S. TV shows remained buoyant at this year’s MIPCOM, with distributors reporting impressive sales for a number of upcoming U.S. network midseason shows and a number of newer players opening their wallets.

Viasat Broadcasting, for example, entered into its first distribution cofi nancing venture with Entertainment One. That deal give Viasat rights in 10 territories to The Firm, which will air on NBC in midseason and has been sold to Global in Canada and Sony’s AXN networks, which plans to schedule it in more than 125 countries.

Streaming video services were also active, with Netflix acquiring rights for the U.S., Canada and Latin America to premiere the first season of Lilyhammer, a drama starring Steven van Zandt that is being produced in Norway, Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix, said during a MIPCOM panel.

The deal was part of Netflix’s plan to expand its international acquisitions of both original and existing TV fare, Sarandos said.

Disney Media Networks cochair and Disney- ABC Television president Anne Sweeney reported that the upcoming ABC midseason drama Missing sold in more than 80 territories.

During a keynote address at MIPCOM, where she received the MIPCOM 2011 Personality of the Year, Sweeney stressed the growing importance of digital distribution in the company’s international sales efforts and noted that their London team has launched a VOD platform, ABC TV On Demand, which offers full seasons of such shows as Grey’s Anatomy.

Such deals are hugely important for both the U.S. studios and networks and international buyers. U.S. studios rely heavily on international markets to help them cover rising budgets and deficits, with some dramas pulling in more than $2 million an episode in international sales, more than they are getting from the U.S. network license fees.

At the same time, the bigger budgets funded by international markets have helped boost the popularity of U.S. programming. CSI, for example, attracted some 65.3 million viewers worldwide in 2010, according to the Eurodata TV research firm.

“U.S. programming is important in the present and will remain important in the future,” Gerhard Zeiler, CEO of the RTL Group, which has 41 TV channels in 10 markets, told B&C prior to MIPCOM.

But acquiring the next big hit can be risky. Some widely sold new shows for the 2011-12 season—such as Prime Suspect, which has been sold to 30-plus markets around the world—are struggling in the ratings.

The Eurozone crisis and economic woes in some key countries, such as Spain and Italy, also raised worries that another global recession could hurt international broadcasters.

But that may not be such bad news for the international sales that are so important for funding U.S. network fare. U.S. dramas can generally be acquired for much less than the cost of producing a local show, which can rarely match the production values of an American series. During the last recession, the U.S. studios actually saw their international television sales increase, and a similar dynamic could boost sales if the TV industry faces another downturn.