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All talk, all action

Content for phones and primetime ring up sales

FAST FACTS
What: Mipcom 2005
When: Oct. 17-21
Where: Palais des Festivals, Cannes
Total exhibitors: 1,404 (last year 1.273)
Total buyers: 3,216 (last year 2,799)
Countries repped: 87 (last year 86)
Total participants: 10,635 (last year 9,758)
Note: Figures based on equivalent time periods

NEW YORK — Cell phone providers clamoring for content rights, healthier ad markets, and new producers coming on stream should combine to make the 21st edition of the Mipcom TV trade show in Cannes a bustling — and lucrative — affair.

Some 13,000 participants are trekking to the French Riviera rendezvous, which unspools Oct. 17-21 and is preceded by two-day kids sales bazaar Mipcom Jr.

The Hollywood majors are upbeat about their re-energized business, signals of which are everywhere:

  • Paramount has licensed all of its eight frosh primetime series in the tough U.K. market.

  • Disney has signed its first deals on Euro cell phones for recaps and previews of “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives.”

  • Warner Bros. comes to the Croisette with good ratings stories to tell for several of its frosh series — “Invasion,” “Reunion” and “The War at Home,” among them. “We won’t just license rights to folks who don’t know how they’ll exploit them. Why would we let our assets be the basis for someone else’s business?”

    Edwards’ tone reflects a general caution among the Hollywood contingent about rushing into the arms of telcos and their brethren.

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

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 expected to be brisk.

“We’re witnessing the renaissance of U.S. shows in primetime abroad,” says Alliance Atlantis distribution topper Ted Riley.

Other indications of buoyancy: Reality powerhouse FremantleMedia has doubled the size of its stand. Euro players such as Granada, TF1 and RTL are fielding their own sizable programmming slates. New channels are sprouting up in ever-narrower niches.

Organizers will be turning a spotlight on Brazil and its telenovelas and presenting a Personality of the Year Award to Venezuelan media mogul Gustavo Cisneros; there will be 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 new shows or toast company milestones: Shanghai Media, Britain’s Celador, Spain’s Icon, Germany’s BavariaMedia, Britain’s All3Media all will pull out the corks.

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

Johnson reckons that S2.5 billion ($3 billion) worth of business will have been written at each of the two Reed Midem-backed TV trade shows — this October’s Mipcom and March’s Mip TV. And that’s without the added layer of techno-driven windows for visual content opening up on mobile devices.

While Japan and South Korea are way out in front in terms of content delivery to these portable devices, Europe isn’t far behind: Italy already has 5 million subs to video content on their cells and France has 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 (Oct. 19), which includes folks such as Apax’s Neil Blackley as well as British broadcaster Greg Dyke and News Corp.’s Abe Peled.

As for the Hollywood heavyweights, they come into the market with a boatload of new shows, many of which will have premiered Stateside — and will have audience ratings numbers to tout (or explain away).

Global penetration

They also can point to primetime success stories for their biggest hits in key territories, which previously relegated Yank fare to the sidelines.

Says Disney’s top European sales exec Tom Tomatzis, “We’re coming off of the biggest year in our history in terms of international TV revenues.”

On the heels of success with “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost” and “Grey’s Anatomy (which as a midseason entry is still chalking up foreign deals), Tomatzis will be talking up the recently debuted Geena Davis starrer “Commander in Chief.”

NBC U Intl. TV prexy Belinda Menendez says the biz is becoming so buoyant and multifaceted that she’s opening offices in Munich and Asia. “With so many new opportunities to service our clients, we wanted this extra localization.”

One of the reasons for the renewed interest in American programming, adds CBS Paramount Intl. TV prexy ArmandoNunez, is that so many U.S. dramas are “more out of the box. When we screened ‘Everybody Hates Chris’ at the L.A. Screenings, people applauded — not something you generally expect from skeptical foreign TV buyers.”

At Sony Pictures TV Intl., exec VP Peter Iacono is similarly pumped, pointing to new dramas such as “Love Monkey” for CBS and “Book of Daniel” for NBC as possible global-pleasers.

“We’re in a great spot,” he says, “in that we had several shows picked up (by the U.S. networks) after the L.A. Screenings.”

While none of the majors would be specific, several analysts suggest that prices for hit dramas abroad were “remarkable,” hovering around $1 million an episode.

And hit Hollywood movies remain hot abroad as well. NBC U will unleash “King Kong” on the Croisette, while Disney has high hopes for “Narnia” (there are seven books in the chronicles) and Sony customers can look forward to “The Da Vinci Code” and “Spider-Man 3.”

The six Hollywood majors will rake in upwards of $6 billion all told in 2005 from their free and pay TV deals for series and movies. (That’s not counting the growing foreign DVD side of the biz, or the coin that is starting to trickle in from deals with mobile-phone delivery players.)

On the indie side, too, participants are pleased with the direction and energy of the global market.

Alliance Atlantis’ Riley, for example, says that he is “fundamentally sold out” on the three “CSI” installments and that the stations, most of which purchased life-of-series pacts, are incredibly loyal to the franchise. France’s TF1, for example, is pulling a 30% share with “CSI: Miami” in primetime.

Meanwhile, among the smaller indies, Clear Channel Entertainment TV is taking a stand for the first time, banking on its bag of music and sports programming rights.

“This convention will tell a lot,” says CCETV prexy Joe Townley. “We think there’s an upswing and that there will be active buying, for bigger dollars.”

Michel Rodrigue, whose Canuck company Distraction specializes in reality formats, is similarly upbeat about the biz. “There’s a particularly big opening right now for scripted formats, especially with European pubcasters who previously didn’t show much interest.”

Rodrigue points to “Law & Order’s” deal with TF1 in France to make a Gallic version of “Special Victims Unit” as priming the market for localized versions of scripted shows.

Distraction will focus on racking up deals for its latest product, “Sins of Love,” which is a parody soap opera.

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