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Netflix acquires rights to Warner Bros.' Batman prequel 'Gotham'

Television IndustryTelevisionNetflix Inc.Media IndustryWarner Bros.Fox Broadcasting CompanyTime Warner Inc.
Netflix make deal for "Gotham" three weeks before the TV show debuts on Fox network
Netflix is betting the Batman prequel "Gotham" will resonate with international audiences
Netflix-Warner Bros. pact demonstrates new distribution channels for TV shows

Netflix has nabbed worldwide Internet video-on-demand rights to "Gotham," Warner Bros.' highly anticipated TV series that tells the story of how police detective James Gordon first encounters a young Bruce Wayne.

Netflix and Warner Bros. Worldwide Television Distribution announced the "unprecedented agreement" late Tuesday.

The deal demonstrates Netflix's aggressiveness in amassing a large library of movies and TV shows to try to create the world's preeminent streaming service. "Gotham" episodes are to become available on the Netflix service next year -- after the series' first season airs on the Fox network in the U.S.

Netflix has been bulking up on content as it expands into international markets. The company, which boasts more than 50 million subscribers, has benefited by picking shows with marquee names and built-in fan bases, such as those for DC Comics superheroes such as Batman.

The deal with Burbank-based Warner Bros., which owns and produces the show, is also noteworthy because Netflix stitched up the rights three weeks before "Gotham" makes its debut in the U.S. 

That means the program is largely untested with viewers, making it a riskier bet.

Still, "Gotham" has generated plenty of buzz since Fox unveiled the program in May. The show is set to debuts on Sept. 22.

"“Gotham is the most anticipated new series of the fall season and we are thrilled to offer it to our members around the world,"” Ted Sarandos, Netflix chief content officer, said in a statement.

The series tells the story of how Batman came to be, the evolution of future police commissioner James Gordon, played by Ben McKenzie, and the corrupt nature of Gotham City. The show also features Donal Logue, Sean Pertwee and Jada Pinkett Smith.

"“The Batman origin story is sure to have massive global appeal so it is fitting that, along with Warner Television, we have created a new model for distributing a show that international and domestic audiences will love," Sarandos said.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

For Warner Bros., owned by media company Time Warner, the deal with Netflix provides guaranteed revenue that will help cover production costs of an expensive television program.

Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon.com have become a financial boon to TV studios, particularly at a time when more traditional buyers -- cable networks and TV stations -- have been less willing to spend big money for repeats of network dramas.

But the upstart streaming services are hungry for content and thus have become a new and lucrative source of syndication revenue for Hollywood. 

"In this era of new business models and expanding windows, this is an unprecedented deal for our company and our industry,”" Jeffrey R. Schlesinger, president of Warner Bros. Worldwide Television Distribution, said in a statement.

Warner Bros. typically licenses its content in individual countries, but the Netflix deal for "Gotham" marks a departure from that practice.

"We have licensed this very special series to Netflix on a multi-territory basis," Schlesinger said. "Netflix is a perfect home for Gotham following its initial broadcast in each respective country, giving Netflix subscribers the opportunity to catch up prior to the new season, whether they’ are already fans or discovering it for the first time.”"

Last year, Amazon.com acquired streaming rights for CBS' Stephen King-inspired drama, "Under the Dome," which went on to become a summer hit. Licensing revenue from Amazon and sales to international TV networks allowed "Under the Dome" to be profitable from Day One.

Twitter: @MegJamesLAT

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Television IndustryTelevisionNetflix Inc.Media IndustryWarner Bros.Fox Broadcasting CompanyTime Warner Inc.
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