Mart on a tech trek

Mipcom eyeing video-compatible mobile devices

Mipcom opens on a high note today as suppliers of content ogle an array of tech-driven outlets for their product.

The biz is eyeing both the promise and the pitfalls of mobile devices that are increasingly video-compatible.

“There’s a huge evolutionary shift going on in the biz,” Mipcom TV topper Paul Johnson said in describing the backdrop for this year’s five-day sales bazaar. “There’s a richer array of windows for content than ever before, and that’s why we decided to focus on mobile platform delivery at this event.”

That helps explain why 20% of the total attendance at Mipcom will be made up of new clients and exhibitors.

On the other hand, not every content deal is a slam dunk when it comes to these tech-driven advances.

“There’s money to be made in VOD, SVOD and longform to mobile, but we need a clear plan: We have to know the exclusivities and holdbacks already granted to our traditional customers, what retransmission rights they might hold and what ones we retain before we enter into agreements,” Warners Intl. TV prexy Jeffrey Schlesinger told Daily Variety.

So while the focus of Mipcom workshops and keynotes will be unknotting these very issues and sketching out viable economic models for these transactions, the traditional wheeling-and-dealing on the convention floor — trading over-the-air and pay TV rights — is still the bread and butter of the biz.

Consider the money to be made.

Hollywood program distributors pocketed $5.5 billion in sales of shows and movies to foreign TV outlets in 2004, according to Kagan Research. At least 90% of that total went to the Hollywood majors and their various subsidiaries, with at best $550 million divvied up among smaller U.S. indie suppliers.

The largest category of buyer — overseas terrestrial TV broadcasters — has grown modestly, since stations reduced their U.S. program purchases in 2001 when their ad revenues tumbled and homegrown fare became all the rage. Pay TV (both basic cable and premium pay channels) is, however, growing steadily, having achieved unusually healthy sales growth of 16% in 2004.

For this year, Kagan Research forecasts foreign pay TV will rise 6% — about triple the expected gain from over-the-air broadcasters.

The foreign TV sector also includes the small pay-per-view/hotel/airline category, with skyrocketing double-digit percentage growth each year, and is forecast to surpass $200 million in 2005.

Attention getters

The preening and posturing on the floors of the Cannes Palais is all about getting noticed during Mipcom: It’s the outward and visible sign of healthy year-round trade — and not just of Hollywood product but increasingly of content from other sellers as well.

Britain’s BBC, for example, is a major seller of TV product around the world, this time bringing another Charles Dickens adaptation, “Bleak House,” and another David Attenborough nature series, “Undergrowth.”Market organizers are turning a spotlight on Brazil and its telenovelas and presenting a personality of the year award to Venezuelan media mogul Gustavo Cisneros; there’s a workshop with commissioning editors from top Euro broadcasters and a merchandising and licensing panel with keynoters Lucasfilm’s Howard Roffman and Warner’s Dan Romanelli.

If the glitz quotient seems low this go-round, there are plenty of cocktail receptions to launch shows or toast company milestones: Shanghai Media, Britain’s Celador, Spain’s Icon, Germany’s BavariaMedia, Britain’s All3Media, France’s Lagadere and Hallmark Entertainment will all pull out the corks.

One intriguing ticket is likely to be the screening of Arab newsie Al-Jazeera’s own behind-the-scenes look at its newsroom, “Control Room.”

Tech race

While Japan and South Korea are way out in front in terms of content delivery to portable devices, Europe is not far behind: Italy already has 5 million subscribers to video content on its cell phones, France 3 million.

So that broadcasters and program producers can get a handle on this paradigm shift, the organizers of Mipcom have set up a super panel on Mobile Content Day (Wednesday) that includes execs such as Apax’s Neil Blackley, Videonet’s Roger Lynch and NDS chief exec Abe Peled, as well as British broadcasting exec Greg Dyke.

On the same day, there’s a breakfast session dedicated to “Mobile and Cross Platform Formats,” in which speakers including Chum TV’s Roma Khanna and Mobix Interactive’s Matt Heiman will talk about these new-media platforms and what their companies are doing to encourage them. An awards ceremony that evening will honor programming created especially for these platforms.

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