Boffo Tv Market Beats The Odds

If expectations are a measure of success, then the Monte Carlo TV Market (Feb 10 to 15) was one of the most upbeat in recent history. The delegates expected doom; they got a market.

With war worries, recession and widespread local problems making the industry wary, Monte Carlo nonetheless demonstrated how resilient the television business is. Most major buyers showed, screened and picked up a discreet number of programs.

“In the end, only about 10% of preregistered buyers didn’t show,” said Andre Asseo, market director. “There was a significant drop in the number of people who didn’t come, but not in the number of exhibiting companies.”

Only one firm, MGM/Pathe, canceled its stand. It was immediately taken by a newcomer, Hamster, France’s leading tv production firm.

Some Europeans were disgruntled at no-show U.S. buyers, such as HBO, Showtime, Arts & Entertainment, Discovery and Family Channel.

Also absent were the secondary players: talent agents, lawyers, packagers, smaller distribs and co-production specialists who have proliferated at recent European tv markets.

The lower numbers were welcomed, however, because it meant freer schedules and longer meetings with those who did come.

Indeed, buyers were pleased that they didn’t have to elbow their way to screening rooms. Sellers were pleased to have clients sit and linger to talk business.

Overall, the mood in the Loews Hotel corridors reflected the sunny weather outside. While snow and biting temperatures gripped much of the rest of Europe, Monte Carlo provided clement relief.

The buzz at Loews was a mixture of Saddam Hussein jokes, comments about those who did brave the transatlantic trip as well as the nuts and bolts of program buying and selling.

For example: MCA TV Intl. announced it wrapped up deals with 14 European countries. Bill Saunders of 20th Century Fox pronounced it one of his best markets ever. Orion TV’s John Laing managed to sell all three of his network series to most major Euro territories.

Monte Carlo proved more than ever that the majors are best positioned to weather the most adverse economic and political conditions.

Still, gone are the market days when studios made megabuck sales announcements. Instead, they were pleased to point out sales of one or two shows to multi territories.

Since Monte Carlo generally allows execs the chance to get a fix on the state of the industry for the next year, many concurred that program pricing in key territories has leveled off.

Although revenues for the majors continue to rise, the increase is no longer exponential. A solid sitcom will garner from the international market $100,000 to $150,000 per episode; action-adventure hours up to $400,000 per episode.

“What has changed is the amount of time, energy and research sellers have to invest in understanding the local needs of the stations that they sell to,” says Columbia Pictures TV Intl. head Nick Bingham.

The chief buyer for the BBC, Alan Howden, did a lot of looking but little buying, while his rival at ITV, Don Gale, didn’t even attend. Neither plan to be at the May Screenings, reflecting the wait-and-see attitude of British tv.

Similarly, RAI-1 buyers did not appear en masse, while RAI-2’s Claudio Fava concentrated on finding a few Euroseries rather than Yank fare.

Management changes cut into purchases made by French broadcasters, though La Cinq’s new head of acquisitions Jacques Zbinden carefully picked up a few U.S. series.

The major preoccupation in Germany is renegotiating prices to take into account the addition of 20 million viewers from the former East Germany.

Several peripheral territories with new broadcast outlets are buying, but their price scale is obviously low: Turkey, Scandinavia, Greece and Portugal.

Finally, unlike other recent Monte Carlo markets, co-production is no longer the hot topic it was two or three years ago. Market participants invariably prefaced their remarks about coventuring with a sigh about the difficulties.

The persevering tradesters on hand at Monte Carlo include Beyond Intl. of Australia, which was furthering a co-production with Studio Hamburg for a drama series as well as a docu with Japan’s TBS. MCA’s Martha Burke-Henessy is talking to Germany’s NDR about an action adventure series. Reteitalia spent an entire day meeting with BBC drama honchos about a joint co-production arrangement. Brazil’s TV Globo was celebrating the completion of its first international co-production with Spain’s RTVE and Switzerland’s RTSI.

Now attention turns to the next major tv event, April’s MIP in nearby Cannes. A terrorist bomb attack or a dug-in ground war could once again flame fears and thus really keep people home.

Or, barring external factors, the pent-up energy in the industry that Monte Carlo did not diffuse could once again easily swell the ranks at MIP.

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