Online companies mix with old media

The 44th annual Mip TV opens its doors today in Cannes, with most of the panel sessions peppered with new media pundits, but most of the deals still put together by old-line TV players.

Folks from Yahoo!, Google and Joost will do a lot of talking, but execs from the Hollywood studio contingent and Euro players like RTL and Beta, TF1 and the BBC, Fremantle and Endemol will be the ones closing content deals.

Thus, there will be keynotes both by new media lights such as Joost topper Frederik de Wahl and Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale as well as workshops devoted to topics like “TV 2.0 Meets Web 2.0″ and “Pitching Effectively for 360 Content.”

The gabfest is a reflection of just how quickly technology is catching on around the world, and an indication that deals for content will likely soon make a financial impact.

As the backdrop to the Riviera rendezvous, consider these recent developments: Half of British homes now enjoy broadband connections, making that country one of the most advanced in the world for videostreaming; China has just greenlit digital terrestrial television for an August debut, spurred on to make moves by its upcoming appointment with the Olympics in 2008; even Vatican City TV plans to embrace HD broadcasts by the end of the month.

The U.S. majors already have closed a number of new media deals in Europe, most notably in Germany and the U.K., for their movies and TV shows with video-on-demand and subscription VOD services.

They’re now looking further afield.

Just last week, the Mouse House agreed to provide its Disney Channel to digital platform DigiTurk in Turkey; and Warner Bros. inked a movie deal with pay-per-view player E-Vision in the United Arab Emirates, to name just two such moves.

Money is almost certainly not substantial from these new platforms and gizmos, but it’s starting to be more than a trickle.

Projections for growth are heady: Global IPTV subscribers are expected to hit 100 million by 2011, expanding at a whopping compound annual growth rate of 92%, up from 3.9 million in 2006, per research firm iSuppli Corp.

This surge would translate into a business worth $39 billion in revenue, up almost 40-fold from this year’s projected worldwide turnover of $960 million from Internet TV deals.

On the traditional terrestrial side, several hitherto sluggish markets have picked up substantially and are spending big bucks for imported product, especially American shows.

Ben Silverman’s indie distrib Reveille, which is based on the Universal lot and handles a number of reality formats abroad, said he was bullish on biz.

“Russia and Turkey, for example, are becoming part of one’s strategy, not just an afterthought. In Asia, too, things are developing quickly: India had been a flyover market but is now really heating up. There are just so many emerging channels that need content right now.”

Salesmen from the Hollywood majors started hunkering down in the Cannes Palais convention hall this morningto license their shows.

MGM, fresh from picking up a trio of MTV series for foreign distribution, is hosting a press luncheon Tuesday to talk up its recently pumped-up international programming and distribution strategy under Jim Packer.

European sellers are out in force as well: Germany’s Beta is unveiling several lavish miniseries for buyers, including “The Trojan Horse,” with Greta Scacchi and Tom Skerritt; and “The Holy Family,” with Franco Nero.

The BBC, which has seen its program export revs increase by 20% this last year, is bringing a doc about the last days of the Princess of Wales, called “Diana.”

France’s phalanx of distributors under the TV France Intl. umbrella will be the largest on record for that country, with 54 companies represented.

Spanish-owned format giant Endemol will be making a program announcement Monday in Cannes, but is not expected to let on who’s ahead in the race to buy the company. British-based but German-owned FremantleMedia, Endemol’s biggest rival, also will be talking up its diverse slate of programming at a breakfast presser.

The Hollywood studio contingent generally conducts its business quietly on the Croisette during Mip, since new season pilots aren’t unveiled until later in May.

One of the U.S. studios’ new and largely unsung areas of growth is the fostering of localized formats of their key drama and comedy shows by foreign broadcasters.

NBC U already is plowing this field with its crop of “Law & Order” series. TF1 in France is busily adapting “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” for its auds in Gaul.

If this exploit works, the effort could nudge other European stations to try customized makeovers of fictional shows.

Moreover, a Russian station has just adapted and aired localized formats of “L&O: CI” and “L&O: SVU”; the trick now is for NBC U to entice buyers in the rest of Eastern Europe (where Russian is widely spoken) to license those localized Russian versions.

“We’re really excited about how good these Russian versions look, and think other players in the region will be interested in buying them,” NBC U Intl. TV distribution prexy Belinda Menendez told Daily Variety. She also thinks the French experiment with “Criminal Intent” is a development other Europeans will follow.

Meanwhile, on the production front across Europe, there is also optimism, as more money on the Continent is being freed up to make shows.

Recently loosened regs in Europe now allow more forms of product placement and sponsorship as well as direct investment in programming.

Whereas only a smattering of advertising types formerly attended the Mip and Mipcom TV trade shows in Cannes, this go-round, such execs are chock-a-block.

“There is definitely a large increase in the number of advertising agents and brand promoters to our market,” said Reed Midem TV topper Paul Johnson.

For one thing, he added, “WPP has partnered with Mip for the first time through its division Ogilvy One. The ad conglom’s brands are all coming for the first time and want to explore partnerships directly with producers, distributors and broadcasters on product integration, sponsorship and even co-production financing.”

Last year, Johnson noted, WPP sent one person, and this year, the ad conglom has registered some 70 delegates. The same growth is coming from rival ad agencies and the brands they represent.

“From the agency perspective, they do not just want to be known simply as the ones writing a blank check, but rather they want to become copyright owners or partners,” Johnson said.

As for the star quotient on the Croisette, two quite quirky first-timers are skedded to appear: Spike Lee, on behalf of new media platform Babelgum; and John Waters, to tout true crime series “Till Death Do Us Part.”

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