Mipcom discovers a new energy

Distribs report new purposefulness in dealings

CANNES — Buyers and sellers retreated home from the Mipcom fall buying pilgrimage holding their heads a little higher than previous years.

Although it is difficult to quantify just how much business was done on the Riviera, distributors and buyers reported a new purposefulness in their dealings.

“We have a board where we mark up the deals we think will close, and it’s full,” said Jennifer Stewart, director of international co-productions, sales and acquisitions for Canadian pubcaster CBC.

Even companies like German licensing group EM.TV, whose meteoric rise and decline typified the media biz boom and bust, came away from Mipcom feeling positive.

“It was a bit of a shock for everyone when the bubble burst,” recalled Patrick Elmendorff, TV distribution prexy, “but for the first time we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve had a much busier market than last year.”

In another sign that things are improving in Germany, paybox Premiere inked a multi-year output deal with Sony Pictures Television Intl. on Monday, completing negotiations with all the Hollywood majors following the collapse of its former parent company Kirch Pay TV last year.

Pact includes blockbusters like “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” and “Bad Boys II.” Premiere has now reworked output deals or package acquisitions with Universal, Warner, Paramount, MGM, Fox, DreamWorks, Lucasfilm and Buena Vista.

Mipcom organizer Reed Midem reported the number of mart attendees down slightly to 10,040 from 10,294 last year by Sunday night, but there was a small uptick in exhibiting companies and buyers.

Reed’s TV director Paul Johnson talked up the fact that screenings at Mipcom Junior, the two-day kids programming mart, went up 15% to a record high. “It is a real indication the market has turned,” Johnson said.

But not all agree. News Corp. CEO Peter Chernin, Mipcom’s 2003 Personality of the Year, warned fellow industryites at a dinner in his honor Saturday night: “We’d better buckle our belts because the ride is going to get wilder from here on in.”

With channels keeping a close watch on their budgets, distribbers report that buyers are getting choosier.

“It used to be possible to persuade acquisition execs to take something they liked to keep it in stock, but no one is buying on impulse any more,” said Frank Soloveicik, head of distribution of France’s Lagardere Active. “You have to do your homework to ensure that you can satisfy their requirements.”

Budgetary issues aside, broadcasters are less inclined to buy finished programs, distribbers complain.

“Broadcasters aren’t paying less,” said Olivier Bremond, director of the French producer-distribber Marathon. “But they are buying less because with the increase in locally made programs, their need for pure acquisitions is very limited.”

In Marathon’s case, that has translated into stubbornly flat sales revenues — despite the company’s growing catalog.

As for the market itself, execs at Mipcom pointed out the diminishing role marts play as a forum for genuinely new product.

“There is nothing new here,” sighed one Euro buyer. “Business has become so competitive that I can’t afford to wait for Mipcom. I’ve got to know what’s out there before coming, and thanks to the Internet this has become easy. I can strike my deals on this,” the buyer said, pointing to his Palm Pilot.

In a sign that market organizers know times — and needs — are changing, Reed Midem is merging the next Mip in March with the Milia interactive mart, and it has lowered the individual participant’s rate to e730 ($850), and negotiated the freeze of Cannes hotel prices through the spring confab.

(Ed Meza and Meredith Amdur contributed to this report).

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