Sony buys owner of TV game shows

Times Staff Writer

Sony Pictures Entertainment, seeking to maintain its dominance in the game show business, has acquired a Dutch company that owns the rights to “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” for $223 million.

The company, 2waytraffic, was founded four years ago by former executives of reality TV giant Endemol Group. It also owns the successful British TV series “You Are What You Eat” and the quiz shows “Take It or Leave It” and “That’s the Question.”

In 2006, it bought a group of companies to acquire the worldwide rights to “Millionaire” for about $200 million.

Sony owns the longtime syndicated juggernaut game shows “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy.” But in recent years it has been unable to field another megahit despite the popularity of the genre. It also lacked the mechanism to adapt and sell its shows in foreign markets.


“It’s a very different skill set,” said Michael Lynton, chief executive of Sony Pictures Entertainment, in an interview. “The only way to get into that business in a significant way is through an acquisition.”

Unlike other major media companies including NBC Universal, Walt Disney Co. and News Corp.'s Fox, Sony does not have a U.S. broadcast network or cable channel as an outlet for shows it produces. Instead, the Japanese-owned movie and TV studio has pursued a strategy of producing shows for other U.S. networks, such as “Rescue Me” on FX and “Rules of Engagement” on CBS.

Sony owns cable networks in such overseas markets as India and Latin America and has been buying stakes in European TV production firms, such as Elisabeth Murdoch’s Shine Reveille Ltd.

Foreign hits have turned into some of the biggest TV shows in the U.S. during the last decade, including “American Idol,” “Wife Swap” and “Dancing With the Stars.”

“That’s the growth area in television right now,” said Chris Coelen, chief executive of RDF USA, the domestic arm of London-based RDF Media Group, which produces “Wife Swap,” among others.

“We are going to see a lot of consolidation. Everyone wants to grow their businesses, and international distribution and production is the fastest way,” Coelen said.