Croisette beckons TV exex

Majors hope to capitalize on summer momentum

This article was updated at 6:52 p.m.

Hollywood’s heavyweight distribs hit the Croisette later this week for the 19th annual Mipcom TV trade show — and signs are the Riviera rendezvous will be a cautiously upbeat affair.

Advertising revenues in Europe are finally starting to pick up, and some Euro broadcasters need to replenish their depleted program shelves.

“I sense a slight upturn, but I’d be loath to call it a revival,” said Alliance Atlantis distribution prexy Ted Riley, who is based in Ireland and regularly takes the pulse of the all-important European market.

His company is “the little indie that could,” having licensed both of the “CSI” juggernauts around the world for healthy prices in the $800,000-per-episode range.

That’s a benchmark that only the creme de la creme of network series manage to obtain, or very occasionally surpass, in the international program sales market.

Except for “CSI,” almost all network series are distribbed abroad by one or another of the seven Hollywood majors.

Keeping up momentum

Several of the majors are coming off a round of encouraging deals inked abroad over the summer; their aim at Mipcom is to capitalize on that momentum.

They’ll have to do some fast talking, though, because most new U.S. series, while looking good on paper and in pilot form, have stumbled out of the ratings box Stateside.

The exceptions: Sony can boast boffo numbers on “Joan of Arcadia,” while Paramount can be pleased with the perf of “The Handler.”

The jury is still out on other drama hopefuls, including “Tarzan,” “Cold Case,” “Karen Sisco,” “The Lyon’s Den,” “Las Vegas” and “Tru Calling.” (Dramas traditionally sell better abroad than do sitcoms.)

Key venue

Mipcom is the key fall venue for the buying and selling of TV shows, and the Hollywood contingent is by far the biggest supplier of shows to the world market.

The seven MPAA companies raked in approximately $5 billion from their sales of movies and TV shows to foreign outlets, pay and free, in each of the last three years.

Pressure is on to unstick the needle.

Because this year Mipcom is being held slightly later in the year (it opens Friday and runs through Oct. 14), primetime ratings from the U.S. are already available on most of the new crop.

Ratings in the U.S. are a useful tool for foreign buyers trying to decide if a particular American series will have legs and hence longevity abroad.

What feature films a Hollywood studio has recently released also influences the level of enthusiasm of foreign buyers for that studio’s TV series.

Disney is coming off a boffo summer with “Finding Nemo” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” — the kind of movies that do well with TV auds overseas — while Warners can still rely on its trio of global franchises “Harry Potter,” “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Matrix” to power its packages overseas.

New product

Meanwhile, other sellers will also try to take advantage of the fall mart to push their new product.

The BBC is offering a new take on medieval classic “The Canterbury Tales,” while rival Granada has a new series of “Prime Suspect” toplining Helen Mirren. Next to the Americans, the Brits are the largest sellers of shows into the international market.

Mexico’s Televisa is fielding its latest telenovela, “Dark Fate”; Canada’s Chum is pushing reality show “The Morning After”; Germany’s Tandem is touting its Siegfried saga, “The Ring”; Oz’s Southern Star is highlighting its comedy “The Sleepover Club”; and Indian sellers like Star TV will be pushing Hindi movies.

And, yes, the reality craze shows little signs of a let-up, with proliferating variations rung on all the basic genres.

Talent agents like the William Morris Agency’s Mark Itkin, who reps top nonfiction players on both sides of the Atlantic, will be on hand to comb through projects and pitches to find the next “Queer Eye” or “Trading Places.”

Itkin told Daily Variety that the hottest genre on the Croisette is likely to be comic reality and formats based on leisure-time activities.

Niche rich

Meanwhile, for U.S. indie distribs, the biz never gets easier and the recipe for success varies little: Find a niche, keep overhead low, be flexible on terms and pray for luck.

John Laing, whose company Rigel is celebrating its 10th year in the indie trenches, has carved out a niche with branded TV movies like his current crop of Mary Higgins Clark romances.

Laing now has 13 of them and notes that installments have performed quite well in Germany and France. Latest project is a miniseries based on another international bestseller, the fantasy “DragonWorld.”

Laing believes the market has “bottomed out” and that program stock levels are down — both signs that buyers will be looking for new product.

Aside from the buying and selling of shows, Mipcom is also a venue for panel discussions, celebratory dinners and award ceremonies.

The bazaar will focus this time around on the DVD phenom; panels and workshops will analyze the role and impact of this new revenue stream. Former Warner Bros. homevideo topper Warren Lieberfarb will be feted this weekend for his vision and tenacity in championing that technology.

Mipcom organizers are also honoring News Corp. prexy-COO Peter Chernin with the personality of the year award for his contributions to running the News Corp. empire.

Mipcom Jr., a two-day screening event for kids programming, takes place on the eve of Mipcom Wednesday and Thursday in Cannes. Hot ticket there is DIC Entertainment’s dinner for comicbook guru Stan Lee, who has partnered with the L.A.-based animator on a new series called “Super7Seven.”

Mipcom is owned by the Reed Midem Organization, a sister company of Daily Variety.

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