Mipcom floats sales boats

Event docks for its 19th year in Cannes

This article was updated at 7:36 p.m.

HOLLYWOOD — Get ready. The Cannes Croisette comes alive today with shows as wacky as “Stripperella,” as weighty as “Inside Saddam’s Iraq” and as worthy as “Witness to Hope.” Some 10,000 TV execs will vie for these and other shows during the Mipcom TV program sales bazaar, which wraps Tuesday.

The fall mart, a key gathering for the global TV biz, celebrates its 19th year on the Riviera with an opening-night gala sponsored by Reed Midem together with Fashion TV.

Although the Hollywood majors dominate the market in terms of money generated for their new series and their hit movies, that never stops other companies from tub-thumping as loudly as they can in Cannes.

French production company Marathon will, for example, tout the shooting of the 300th episode of its hit series “Saint Tropez,” which airs on TF1 in France and has been licensed in 80 countries around the world.

Several other companies will be making announcements during the first hours of the five-day confab.

MTV Networks Intl. will begin handling all programming abroad from its sister company Comedy Central, including its cop spoof “Reno 911!” Distrib is also debuting programming from its new cable sibling Spike TV, whose offerings include the aforementioned “Stripperella” as well as “Gary the Rat” and “The Ren & Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon.”

Such alternative Yank fare is finding increasing acceptance on TV screens abroad as the traditional reliance on U.S. primetime drama series and movies declines.

Meanwhile, the History Channel will unveil today two spinoffs in Europe, though in which territories is still unclear, while Sony’s action channel AXN is poised to launch across Eastern Europe and the MGM Channel has just taken wing in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

Sony senior exec VP Andy Kaplan told Daily Variety that there are still many growth opportunities in the foreign channel biz.

The Walt Disney company arrives in Cannes pumped up by a just-inked deal with the BBC for 100 of its movie titles, among them “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “The Hours” and “Chicago.”

Public television distrib arm APT has just licensed DVD and homevideo rights to “Witness to Hope,” the biography of Pope John Paul II, to Universal Pictures (UK). Rights cover the U.K. and Ireland.

Also at the market, Carlton America will hawk 15 new TV movies, a genre that can outrate a theatrical and costs much less to buy, according to CEO Stephen Davis. Theatricals, Davis points out, are often stale by the time they get to their free TV window. (Carlton U.K. will be licensing the “Inside Saddam’s Iraq” doc to buyers starting today.)

Explore Intl. will unveil a partnership with Russia’s Channel One that includes a deal for 20 hours of National Geographic programming and joint promotion for a Russian-lingo edition of the National Geographic magazine.

Brit producer Talent TV will talk up a deal for a Japanese version of the live event format “Test the Nation — the National IQ Test,” to air on TV Asahi.

New Spanish toon distributor Icon has sold Millimages’ “Corneil & Bernie” to Spain’s Cartoon Network. Deal rolls off a reciprocal agreement inked last week between Icon and France’s Millimages. Icon will distribute Millimages’ catalog in Iberia and Latin America; Millimages will handle Icon’s slate in French-speaking Europe.

And the Anime Network, the first U.S. channel dedicated to anime, is scouring the convention floor for product. Already prexy Kevin Corcoran has secured U.S. rights for the 24 episodes of Pioneer’s series “Chobits.”

As for kids programming in general merchandising tie-ins are expected to be top of mind on the Croisette, especially for hot characters like Ragdoll’s “Boohbas” and DLT’s “Going Buggs.”

The level of activity expected over the five-day event suggests that several long-lingering storm clouds are breaking up.

“For the first time in a while, we don’t have anything hanging directly over our heads,” CBS Intl. prexy Armando Nunez told Daily Variety. “The economy, the war, SARS, threats of terrorism have all seemingly receded. And it looks like the advertising market in most countries abroad is starting to rebound.”

Consider these developments:

  • The troubled Teutonic TV picture has cleared up and the remnants of the once-mighty Kirch empire have been disposed of. The first signs at ProSiebenSat 1 under media mogul Haim Saban are positive with what’s been hailed as an astute hire in Guillaume de Posch as his chief operating officer.

  • Pay TV platforms in Italy, Spain and Germany are getting a new lease on life after years of uncertainty and fragility. Better a single strong player in each market than two weak ones is how Hollywood execs are rationalizing the latest developments on that front –even if they will probably be faced with tough negotiations in renewing their long-term output deals.

  • Britain’s Carlton and Granada have just received the governmental go-ahead to merge their operations, making for a single, stronger ITV network. The two players will almost certainly see their program sales operations combined by the next Mip in March.

  • Local production efforts by Hollywood majors continue around the world and are beginning to make money for the parent companies. Latest example: Sony licensed rights to Colombian telenovela “Betty la Fea,” transforming it into an ugly duckling story in Hindi and airing it on Sony Entertainment TV in India, where it’s already gaining audience share.

The Mouse House’s international TV prexy David Hulbert also believes the naysayers have had their day and that business is picking up.

The London-based Hulbert said his team is finalizing deals in key Euro territories for its fall and midseason hopefuls — “Threat Matrix,” “Hope and Faith” and “Line of Fire.” In fact, the latter has just been snapped up by Britain’s Channel 4.

“Sales this early — before some shows have even aired in the U.S. — are unusual, reflecting well on the prospects for each. If you look back to some of our biggest winners, like ‘Alias’ and ‘Scrubs,’ sales really only kicked in after Mipcom, so I believe that signs are positive for our new shows.”

On a similarly positive note, Paramount Intl. TV prexy Gary Marenzi says his sales team has enjoyed its best summer in years.

Though there are still pockets of concern — Japan, Poland and Venezuela among them — Marenzi’s still finding ways to place programming effectively. Even the traditionally tricky British and once tortuous Russian markets have become lively of late.

Of course there are cross-currents that all the Hollywood majors are having to weather.

As Fox Intl. TV exec VP Marion Edwards points out, reality, talk and local shows are eating up increasing numbers of slots on major stations overseas, relegating all but the most sought-after series to the fringes of skeds.

Looking beyond the confines of the Croisette, she adds, copyright theft is undermining the ability of suppliers successfully to exploit product through all available windows.

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