Scaled-down event reflects tough financial times

CANNES Reaction to the 18th annual Mipcom TV trade show was as changeable as the weather here, which segued between brilliant skies and pouring rain.

Buyers and sellers agreed money was tight, the mood jittery and the programming on offer so-so — but each seller claimed things were not so bad for his own company.

Whatever the truth, the pulse of last week’s market was weak, the tone of discussions measured, the mood of the participants businesslike but hardly bullish.

“You’ve seen it in other businesses — right now it’s about knock-down prices,” is how one buyer described the deals going down during the five-day bazaar.

Because money is scarce, enthusiasm for co-productions has resurfaced on the Croisette, even among unlikely partners such as the U.K. and Italy.

For the small fry, of course, the lead-time is often so great on co-financed projects that they don’t stay in business long enough to see the results.

Cocktail parties, press confabs, freebies and promotional gimmicks all reflected the scaled-back approach to international business. There were no planes flying overhead, no bungie-jumping on the beach and no interminable meals at the four-star Moulin des Mougins.

The U.K.’s Granada TV did buck the trend by erecting an ice-skating rink in front of the Carlton Hotel as part of its sales pitch for its mini “Dr. Zhivago.” The International Red Cross was on hand in case of injuries.

Granada sales topper Nadine Nohr said that the trick in such a difficult market is to have a breadth of genres so that, as she deftly put it, “We don’t have to skate on thin ice but rather enjoy perfect balance.”

The Hollywood majors, who represent the biggest block of programming on offer abroad, were at pains to dispel reports of doom and gloom.

Disney’s Intl. TV topper David Hulbert said that rumors of the demise of lucrative deals have been exaggerated.

“It’s not the best of times, but it’s not the worst of times either,” he said, pointing to the huge growth in outlets and new platforms around the world.

The Mouse House announced a dozen deals recently concluded including ones for channel carriage in France and another for movie titles in the Far East.

Hulbert’s assessment was echoed by his counterpart at Warner Bros. Jeffrey Schlesinger, who said teasingly “Don’t be misled. A few key deals are on the horizon.”

Hollywood heavyweights closed programming package deals in second-tier territories — Warners in Turkey, Universal in Mexico, Disney in Singapore and Poland — but nobody was touting the megabuck output deals of years past.

While Kirch weighs heavily on many Euro companies that did business with the now bankrupt Teutonic broadcaster, word on the Croisette was that a resolution in the auction of its assets was in sight.

“We’re not reveling, but we are relieved,” was how one Hollywood exec described the mood of the American contingent in Cannes.

Not that relief will come easily. As SBS CEO Markus Tellenbach put it, “An animal like Kirch Media is difficult to eat because of the garbage around it.”

Europeans unveiled a clutch of their own lavish “event” programming including a slate of miniseries starring Catherine Deneuve, Alain Delon and Gerard Depardieu which were mostly period pieces — “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” “Dr. Zhivago” and “Trenk: Between Love and Duty.”

However, putting such projects together is no easy feat these days.

“No one is investing in production without having three or four territories pre-sold,” said Italian firm Mediaset’s head of acquisitions Gabriella Ballabio.

For its part, the BBC touted its latest kids sensation “Fimbles,” produced by a new company called Novel Entertainment. Beeb execs said they racked up $7.5 million in sales in the first few days of the market.

On the reality front, format factories like Fremantle and Endemol were chock-a-block with customers throughout the week.

But during Q and A session midweek on formats, ITV’s head of programs David Liddiment warned Europeans not to rest on their laurels as Yanks could steal their thunder.

“Americans are brilliant practitioners of television,” he said, “and they won’t sit back and let Europeans dominate this market for long.”

Fremantle distribution topper David Ellender told Variety that his company is focusing on “regional distribution,” posting sales execs to far-flung cities, including Miami, Berlin and Hong Kong to help localize franchise shows. He pointed to “Jamie’s Kitchen” and “Mr. Bean” as working well in various territories.

As for Latins, at least one major company, Brazil’s Globo, wrapped a deal for its telenovelas with Russia’s Channel One, saying that getting any currency other than the real was a welcome windfall.

Like many media trade shows these days, Mipcom is morphing into a three-day bazaar. By mid-afternoon on Oct. 9 the ranks of 11,000 delegates had noticeably thinned out.

(Ed Meza and Eileen Tasca contributed to this report).

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