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How much does it cost to go to the Screenings?

The LA Screenings is the most important event in the year for international broadcasters looking to acquire the latest US network series. But how much do the Brits spend to leave London for the sunnier climes of LA in the spring?

It is difficult to quantify the exact return on investment in foreign content – but it seems a price can be put on the effort required to go and buy it. About £5,000 a head seems to be the going rate.

British broadcasters are considered some of the most important and influential buyers that attend the annual trip, which is held in May and hosted by the Hollywood studios. With the launch of Sky Atlantic, with its HBO output deal and a raft of network series including CBS Studios International’s Blue Bloods, it will be interesting to see how rival networks including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five value US fare (see here for some of the latest developments).

But, how valuable is the LA Screenings and does it provide a decent return on investment? Through a series of Freedom of Information Act requests, TBI looked at how much it costs the country’s two public broadcasters – the BBC and Channel 4 – to send its key acquisition execs to California.

In 2009, the BBC spent £20,460.63 to send four executives – Jana Bennett, Danny Cohen, Kate Mordant and Sue Deeks – to LA. Although, this was down from 2008 when it spent £23,842.79, that year it sent five execs, meaning an average increase per person in 2009.

“While we are taking steps to limit the amount we spend on acquisitions, the BBC aims to secure the best content from across the world for its audiences,” Lynne Connolly, cross genre project manager, BBC Vision, told TBIvision. “The above figures include flights, transport, accommodation and other incidental expenses.”

Jana Bennett, who is now president, worldwide networks, BBC Worldwide but was previously director of BBC Vision, and Danny Cohen, who is now controller, BBC One but was previously controller, BBC Three, stayed at the Sunset Marquis, a West Hollywood hotel costing them £1,254.83 and £1,393.45 respectively.

Meanwhile, Channel 4, which has picked up a number of big-ticket US series in recent years including Glee and True Blood, spent £5,000 per head to send execs including Gill Hay and Angela Jain to the event. “We can confirm that the total annual spend for sending four key members of staff within Channel 4 to the LA Screenings for ten days was in the order of £20,000 per year during 2008 and 2009. Please note that these costs include flights, accommodation, travel within LA and subsistence,” it said.

The subsequent scheduling of the US acquisitions on BBC and Channel 4 channels has caused much consternation – something BSkyB was keen to highlight as it announced Sky Atlantic. “Unlike other broadcasters, Sky won’t hide these series in the twilight hours,” said Stuart Murphy, director of programmes for Sky Atlantic earlier this month.

US content clearly still has currency among British viewers – now we know a little more about how much the execs spend on heading out to get first look at it.