Mipcom draws a crowd, but they leave wallets home

CANNES — They may have left their wallets at home, but some 10,000 delegates poured into the Palais on Monday at the opening bell of the 18th annual Mipcom TV trade show.

Gorgeous fall weather helped offset the fact that TV station buyers’ purse strings are tighter than ever, with many in town to find ways to extend the length of their deals or get more runs of shows to which they are already committed. Not surprisingly, many cash-strapped Latins were no-shows on the Croisette.

The number of news-related press conferences is decidedly down, replaced by a dozen “photo calls” with acting talents like Michael Biehn from the Tribune-Fireworks actioner “Adventure Inc.,” Gabriel Corrado from the Argentinean telenovela “Masimo Corazon” and Jane Birkin, who held court on a boat called Epicurus to flog a concert show called “Arabesque.”

Most high-profile actor in town, however, is “Frasier’s” Kelsey Grammer, who is tubthumping for two upcoming telepics in which he stars — “Mr. St. Nick,” for Hallmark, and “Field of Honour,” a Revolutionary War period piece in which he plays George Washington, for Fremantle Intl. Distribution.

Grammer, who was also holding forth to journalists on a boat, together with Hallmark’s Robert Halmi Sr., told Daily Variety that it was well-nigh impossible to turn a Halmi project down. The actor also is doing a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” miniseries for Halmi next year.

One tonic missing from this year’s Mipcom is an obvious new buyer in town — past editions saw, in order, Orbit, Nova TV, Wowow and, until it imploded, ITV Digital — which all the sellers are chasing.

Hot ticket event Monday afternoon was a powwow to bring the biz up to date on the state of play in the once-lucrative but now troubled German market.

The Hollywood majors are all on hand to push their new fall series, with Paramount pointing to “The Dead Zone” as a hot property, Sony to “The Shield” and Disney to second-year sitcom “Scrubs” as an unexpected international success.

Positive attitude

Disney international prexy David Hulbert countered the doom-and-gloom theorists of the market, arguing that the overall downturn in foreign markets is not that steep and not likely to be long-lasting.

The Mouse House will unveil a dozen deals large and small today, including an agreement with Canal Satellite in France to carry the multiplex bouquet of Disney Channels and a volume deal with broadcaster TVP in Poland, among others.

“The downturn has given people a chance to get out of deals that were no longer working and to reassess how they are positioned for the future. It’s really not been all bad. We’ve become more customer-focused,” Hulbert said.

Formats du jour

Meanwhile, reality formats are definitely a dime a dozen in Cannes, though many concepts on offer are nothing more than a glint in some indie producer’s eye. Realitymeisters Fremantle Intl. Distribution and “Big Brother” originator Endemol, who have real shows on offer and are equipped to help stations set up local versions, were chock-a-block with clients throughout the day.

L.A.-based producer Phil Gurin, attending his second foreign market, was busily meeting with European producers to scoop up formats for the U.S. and to sell some of his own abroad.

Also much ballyhooed are big-budget Euro minis and TV movies like TF1′s “Dangerous Liaisons,” toplining Catherine Deneuve and Rupert Everett; France 2′s mini “Franck Riva,” toplining Alain Delon; and Bavaria Media’s “Trenck: Between Love and Duty,” which is being touted as “the most expensive TV historical ever” at $7 million.

As for deals, a number of companies came to market with prepackaged agreements already signed, sealed and duly delivered to journalists’ press boxes.

These are among the more notable:

  • Universal has licensed an array of movies and TV shows to Mexico’s Televisa, including its hot cable series “Monk,” new primetime network drama “Robbery Homicide Division” and sitcom “The Grubbs.” Dick Wolf’s “Law & Order” franchise and movies “The Mummy Returns” and “The Scorpion King” are also part of the deal.

  • MTV Networks and France’s Canal J have expanded their relationship to launch a branded Nicktoons animation block and a Nick Jr.-branded block on Tiji, Canal J’s preschool programming service. The two partners also will pursue acquisition and co-production opportunities.

  • Carlton has inked several deals with Euro stations for telepics from its U.S. subsidiary, Carlton America, and for classic movies from its Rank, ITC and Korda libraries. The Hallmark Channel in the U.K., for example, has picked up several U.S. telepics, including “Dead in a Heartbeat,” while Duna TV in Hungary has snapped up classic movies including the raucous “Carry On” comedies, featuring Sid James and Barbara Windsor.
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