Strictly TV business

17th Mipcom opens with little fanfare

CANNES — While organizers of the 17th annual Mipcom trade show said two weeks ago that only 350 delegates had officially dropped out of the market, anecdotal evidence over the weekend suggests that the number may actually be triple that. No-shows apparently include top TV talent agents from Los Angeles.

Given the sluggish economy and uncertain political backdrop, most are expecting a low-key, businesslike and glitzless event. But the confab is is important to the Hollywood majors because they typically use the market to seal deals for their new fall series with top foreign TV stations. How Sunday’s military action affects the five-day bazaar, which runs through Friday, remains to be seen.

Reed Midem topper Xavier Roy told Daily Variety: “We were all anticipating this, and there’s not much people here can do except carry on as normal.”

Roy played down the absences, pointing out that 1,055 Americans were already in Cannes.

“They have come here to do business, and the fact that they are so numerous proves that the market is indispensable. It is also a testimony to their determination and courage.”

While most Americans had already arrived, it’s likeldy any who were skedded to travel Sunday canceled in light of the worldwide travel alert which followed the U.S. strike.

Among the American shows expected to pique the interest of Euro station buyers are Disney’s “Alias,” Warners’ “Smallville” and Fox’s “24.”

Several other new U.S. shows arrive on the Croisette with good domestic ratings stories to tell, including crime dramas “Crossing Jordan” and “The Guardian” and quirky hospital comedy “Scrubs.”

Among Yank indies, Gotham-based distrib Fremantle is packaging its new shows under the rubric “accent on youth.” Offerings include a telenovela-style soap opera called “Spyder Games,” which features a sexy young cast, lots of pop culture, trendy fashion and music. It airs Stateside on MTV.

Full speed ahead

“While serious belt-tightening has caused cutbacks throughout the industry, we’re going full speed ahead with plans for sales at Mipcom,” said Fremantle prexy Paul Talbot.

Top Euro program sellers also are expected to make a strong showing with their new wares.

Chief among them is the Kirch Group. The Teutonic conglom will tout its latest miniseries, “The Crusaders.” Given the worldwide focus on the Arab world right now, the mini is likely to galvanize the interest of buyers.

The costumer will air in Germany on Kirch’s Sat 1, as well as in in France, Italy and Spain, where key broadcasters were brought on board early as co-production partners. A sale to a U.S. cabler would be an added coup for the Kirch Group.

On the doc side, Japan’s NHK, Germany’s ZDF and France’s TeleImages have partnered on the ambitious series “Space Millennium.” The two-parter combines state-of-the-art CG imagery with the latest scientific discoveries.

This morning, France’s Culture Minister Catherine Tasca is skedded to do an official walk-about of the convention floor to inaugurate the event. She is expected to discuss some of the latest government moves to boost the Gallic film and TV sectors.

AOL address

In the afternoon Robert Friedman, prexy of worldwide interactive marketing for AOL Time Warner, will deliver a keynote address entitled “AOL Anytime, Anywhere” during a special session devoted to the Internet.

And in the evening, Universal’s international TV co-toppers Belinda Menendez and Phil Schuman will host a screening of their company’s summer sleeper pic “The Fast and the Furious.”

Despite a bad case of the jitters and a modest number of outright cancellations, the U.S. contingent is still the heftiest headed to the Riviera rendezvous.

American companies manning sales booths should total 112, followed by the U.K. (with 101 stands) and France (61). All the major Hollywood studios are fielding sizable contingents.

Nearly 100 first-timers

The market is also welcoming 96 first-time exhibitors, including 13 U.S. distribs. Only five small American exhibitors and some 300-400 participants worldwide have officially pulled out. Total attendance should top out at 10,500, down a thousand from last year.

Mipcom’s high point is likely to come Wednesday, when the market honors MTV Networks chairman-CEO Tom Freston with the personality of the year award.

The honor celebrates Freston’s leadership and creative contributions to the global entertainment marketplace and the company’s 20th anniversary.

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