Exex make a hasty mip exit

Midem chairman relieved at week's end

CANNES — It will go down as the most low-key Mipcom of recent years, yet the top players among the 10,000 program buyers and sellers who made the trek to the Riviera rendezvous termed it “intense but focused.”

Although the annual trade show got off to a jerky start Oct. 8 — the morning after the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan — execs hunkered down quickly to wind things up before the official end of the market Oct. 12.

On Oct. 12, the international mood of apprehension hit the market here. A bomb scare emptied the Palais at noon on the last day of business; the vigipirate police force searched the place and found nothing, and everyone filed back in a half-hour later.

Money, not surprisingly, was not in abundant supply at this 17th edition. Worldwide advertising revenues are off around the world, and most TV stations have cut programming acquisition budgets.

Germany in particular is hurting, with, among other things, too many Yank shows to funnel into limited program slots. Paramount and the Kirch Group are wrangling over the terms of their output deal, as are (on a lesser scale) Warner Bros. and its Teutonic partner, Kinowelt.

Fears about the depth and length of the recession hovered over the Palais. So, too, did the tumultuous political events of the last month, following Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., causing tight security and last-minute American cancellations. Paramount international topper Gary Marenzi and Fox’s Marion Edwards were the most high-profile no-shows.

“It was the first time in years I looked down from my balcony at the Majestic Hotel and saw lunchtime tables empty,” says veteran U.S. seller Paul Talbot.

If there was little coin at this market, there was even less glitz and few celebs in tow. Many distribs decided it was more appropriate to cancel or tone down celebrations.

There was no must-have show that had everyone loosening their purse strings — the international TV biz has become too complex for that. But there was a handful that commanded reasonably healthy prices including Disney’s “Alias,” Kirch’s mini “The Crusaders,” Target’s reality formats “Make My Day,” Nelvana’s kidshow “CyberChase,” Marathon’s doc “Totally Spies” and anything that shed light on Islam, Afghanistan or terrorism.

As for future trends, SBS programming topper Brian Frons believes that, given the times we now live in, “warm and fuzzy” shows will be back in fashion. The Scandis are glued to reruns of “Friends,” an example, Frons contends, of auds’ yearning for escapist fare.

The high point of the week came Wednesday when Mipcom honored MTV Networks chairman Tom Freston with the 10th annual Mipcom Personality of the Year award. The event was suitably short on pomp and long on pop, with an entertaining turn by singer Bryan Adams and an eloquent toast from MTV Intl. topper Bill Roedy.

Some journalists quipped that this market was “the revenge of the pubcasters.” Commercial broadcasters like France’s TF1 and Canal Plus, Germany’s RTL and Italy’s Mediaset kept a low-profile, but pubcasters including France 2 and Germany’s ORF and ZDF drew a disproportionate amount of ink. Even the tiny Franco-German arts channel Arte held daily press conferences.

“The Crusaders” found itself a minor victim of the tension between the West and the Islamic world when distribbery Kirch nixed a screening and buyers’ dinner. The mini nonetheless chalked up numerous sales, though as yet not to the U.S.

Among the confabs that flanked the main sales event at Mipcom was a Focus on China Oct. 10, in which several high-ranking CCTV execs and government bureaucrats invited Western media types to lend their expertise and bring their shows to the burgeoning Chinese market.

As for the Hollywood heavyweights, which jointly control 80% of the Yank biz conducted on the Croisette, they gave the five-day event a thumbs-up.

While all the studios enjoy output deals in most of the major Euro territories, they concentrated on closing deals in secondary territories for their new fall series.

Disney execs say the market turned out to be more effective than they expected. “We clocked about 20 deals while here,” says Disney’s London-based TV topper David Hulbert, referring mainly to agreements for movies, new series “Alias” and “Scrubs” and reality show “The Amazing Race.”

Warners, Sony and Universal also reported strong interest in their new series and some competitive sparks among buyers in France and Spain.

“The major players (were) here. We’ve accomplished what we set out to achieve, especially in Europe,” WBIT prexy Jeffrey Schlesinger says.

And the smallest of the majors, MGM, which now handles NBC-owned series like “Providence” and “Crossing Jordan,” was booked through the day on Oct. 11 with the ever-picky buyers from Britain.

Among Euros, too, things went better than expected and transnational deals did get done although some lament the fact that cash for co-production was scarce.

“There’s a negative dynamic which is making it very difficult to produce new programs: No one wants to put money into production,” says Marathon’s Olivier Bremond.

Kirch’s main man on the Croisette, Jan Mojto, says the right people showed up and that business was good. His own role within the Kirch empire is about to metamorphose, leading to all sorts of latenight speculation at the Martinez Hotel watering hole. Latest word: Mojto will continue to be the chief international liaison for the company, whatever his next incarnation.

Other things putting the squeeze on the Euro station biz are the escalating tab for sports rights and the spiraling costs of news. “That means there are lower budgets for everything else,” EuroImages CEO Jean Rouilly says.

As for the Mipcom organizers, Midem chairman Xavier Roy breathed a sigh of relief at week’s end, clearly pleased that the event went off as well, and as incident-free, as it did. Did the organizers make money? Given the heavy investment in security and the 1,500 no-shows, less perhaps than usual — but then, at this market, this year, so did everyone else.

(Elizabeth Guider, Alison James, Christian Kohl, Ed Meza, Eileen Tasca and Andrea R. Vaucher reported from Cannes.)

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