Buyers bank on Yanks

U.S. fare fetches big bucks, inspires Euro model

CANNES — Torrential rains midweek could not dampen the spirits of 12,000 TV execs who trekked to the French Riviera resort for the 21st Mipcom TV trade show last week. They were smiling because business is back and broadband is beckoning.

That was the clear signal from five days of steady, focused buying and selling of programs on the convention floor — and equally focused panel sessions bringing participants up to speed on the ever-quickening pace of digital developments.

Sparked perhaps by the newly installed Iger regime back in Burbank, Disney execs blanketed the Croisette with billboards and press releases touting their latest deals, from formats of old sitcoms in Russia to licenses for its latest dramas.

The other Hollywood majors looked on bemusedly, not because they weren’t selling as well, but because they chose to maintain a well-honed policy of studied reticence.

However, they too couldn’t resist pointing out just how much prices for their shows have risen in the last couple of years now that American series are back in favor practically everywhere.

CBS Paramount’s “Everybody Hates Chris” is raking in $500,000 an episode from foreign — almost double the figure such half-hours brought in five years ago; Fox’s “24” is hauling in upwards of $1 million an episode — twice what dramas used to make.

Sensing the moment, CBS Corp. supremo Leslie Moonves flew over for a day to gladhand buyers and take the pulse of the reinvigorated market.

Disney’s top distribution exec Laurie Younger confirmed that her hot ticket items — “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” — are pulling in more than $1 million an episode from foreign station clients.

And American series are not alone in their buoyancy.

Dramas made in Korea — the hottest commodity in the Far East — are pulling in two or three times as much money from Japanese TV stations as Hollywood series do in that territory.

The performance of American product abroad has encouraged Europeans to transform their own locally made productions.

France’s TF1 is adapting hit Gallic movie “Crimson Rivers” as a six-parter of 52 minutes each. That’s a new format for the commercial powerhouse, and one station toppers hope will help the show travel.

Germany’s top distrib Jan Mojto is also retooling historical epics — like one that revisits the bombing of Dresden — by coming up with a more compelling storyline and more convincing characters. Both these and other top-flight Euro companies are trying to emulate the Americans by coming up with an edgier tone, more interesting characters and sharper dialogue.

It may have been unspoken in Cannes, but Europeans are nowadays more taken with, and inspired by, Yank TV series than with Hollywood movies.

On the nonscripted front, there was no “Big Brother”-like breakout, but both reality behemoths Fremantle and Endemol are stretching genres to the limit — “Bring Your Husband to Heel” and “Blind Marriage” give the idea — and they’re plumbing back catalogs for any idea with a chance to fly.

Fremantle, for example, unveiled a new relationship with Sony-BMG to exploit its back library of TV properties for music programming.

Endemol is among many throwing itself into the mobile content market, launching channels with comedy clips and bizarre video stunts. Best estimate was that by 2010, three billion people will have mobile devices — the same number that will own a TV set.

A superpanel of CEOs at Mipcom admitted the behavior of consumers as they become essentially their own programmers is a conundrum.

“We don’t know how much or exactly what people will watch on their mobile phones — just probably not ‘War and Peace,’ ” opined veteran British broadcaster Greg Dyke.

However, some contours of this new media order are already clear: Primetime is no longer 8 to 11 p.m., it’s when people are going to and from work; their attention span is no longer the 24-minute sitcom timeframe but a 3- to 5-minute mobisode length; their loyalty is not to a channel or a brand but to single pieces of content.

As Endemol chief creative officer Peter Bazalgette put it during a keynote address: “Mobile is a different mindset. We need to work out as an industry what people want at different times of the day. It’s a process we’ve only just begun.”

(Liza Foreman and Dominic Schreiber contributed to this report.)

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