More channels to program, dollars to spend
As 12,000 international TV execs traipse to the French Riviera for the 44th Mip TV sales bazaar, the mood on the Cannes Croisette is likely to be heady.Hollywood drama series, European reality formats, Asian anime and Latin soaps are in demand around the world as more and more outlets for content switch on. With economies buoyant around the globe, prices have continued to tick upward, especially for the hits everybody clamors for. American program suppliers have been smiling all the way to the bank, with the seven major studios pocketing record sums on the back of a dozen hit series. From “House” to “Heroes,” from “Lost” to “Prison Break,” from “Without a Trace” to “NCIS,” shows are drawing sizable auds abroad. Says CBS Paramount Intl. TV prexy Armando Nunez, “On traditional over-the-air stations abroad, I just don’t see demand for U.S. product peaking anytime soon.” Digital terrestrial TV is offering ever greater opportunities to place new content and library material into another new pipeline, he adds. Nunez is also pumped because his unit will soon take charge of the “CSI” franchise, now that co-partner Alliance Atlantis has been bought out in Canada. That show was the spark that reignited the foreign market for U.S. series back in 2000. Given the Yank invasion of foreign primetime skeds that followed, best guess is the half-dozen Hollywood majors jointly bring home the healthy sum of $6.5 billion a year from sales of TV shows and movies to TV outlets abroad. That’s the good news. Making life more complicated is not only that execs must learn the names and faces behind all the new new-media players — from Anytime in Singapore to Cogeco in Canada, from Babelgum in Italy to Izzy in Lithuania — but putting together deals in this turbo-charged environment is becoming a monumental headache. Figuring out which rights to grant a particular partner and which rights to hold back is a complex calculation. Questions of exclusivity, revenue share, payment mechanism, cannibalization of product, windowing and pirating are tricky, with different answers territory to territory. Any false move and millions of dollars could be at stake. That’s why there are no longer any huge announcements trumpeted at trade shows like Mip. The deals require behind-the-scenes tinkering and too many lawyers to come together for the benefit of the press in Cannes. Thus Mip and its sister trade show Mipcom in October have largely morphed into showcases for new product promotion. Among these, the Hollywood majors, who control the bulk of content coming out of the U.S., will play a crucial role, despite the fact that Tinseltown doesn’t greenlight new series for the fall until May. Given the number of platforms they either own or supply Stateside, there’s still plenty of new content for them to talk about in mid-April. Fox alone has five new one-hour dramas that it will introduce to buyers — “Drive,” “The Wedding Bells,” “Saving Grace,” “Burn Notice” and “The Riches” — not counting what series might get picked up for primetime in May. “We have more original product at this Mip than ever before,” Fox Intl. TV prexy Marion Edwards says, pointing to the investment being made by more and more U.S. cablers in original material. Every Hollywood major has a similar story to tell: Warners has “Side Order of Life” (Lifetime), NBC U has “Starter Wife” (USA), Sony is handling the mini “The Tudors” (Showtime), CBS Par has an untitled David Duchovny project (also for Showtime) and Disney has “Kyle XY” (ABC Family). Meanwhile, with several heretofore lackluster regions goosing their own entertainment industries — think Eastern Europe, Asia Pacific and the Mideast — expect those players increasingly to step up to the plate and buy product. “Because of growth areas like these,” says top Mouse House TV sales exec Tom Toumazis, “we at Disney are projecting almost 10% growth a year in our revenues over the next five years.” Even though a number of freshman Yank series have crashed and burned on the U.S. schedules (Warners saw a half dozen of its newcomers bite the dust this season), Toumazis thinks foreign buyers will still fork out big bucks for likely hits. He points to the job the Mouse House series “Ugly Betty” has done in reviving the Friday night comedy lineup on Britain’s Channel 4 as indicative of what a good U.S. import can do for a local station. And just as the bulk of American shows don’t make it to a second season on Stateside TV, guess what: Local shows don’t always work on foreign stations either. Programmers abroad are discovering that just because they produced something themselves doesn’t mean it will necessarily catch on with viewers. “It’s hard to produce a hit in any territory,” confides one Teutonic exec, who indicates that not a single new bona fide German-made show has been concocted in his country this past year. Since the odds are so tough, everyone needs to look beyond their own borders for fresh ideas, format rights or finished product. Moreover, as Sony Pictures TV Intl. prexy Michael Grindon points out, fragmentation abroad has put more pressure on broadcaster budgets, and thus lower-cost programming (meaning imports rather than homegrown fare) has quite an appeal. “Startup players in particular,” Grindon explains, “rely heavily on imports, and though they don’t have huge budgets, they find that American series can do a lot for their schedules in a short period of time.” Biz on the Croisette also is likely to be brisk on the format front, and not just for reality concepts. “Broadcasters and producers alike are choosing scripted hits in drama, comedy and even movies to adapt in their local languages with local stars to much success,” says Reed Midem TV topper Paul Johnson. (Variety cousin Reed Midem owns and operates the Mip and Mipcom markets.) This broadens intellectual copyright reach, Johnson adds, “because in the vast majority of cases, a hit on a broadcaster usually translates into a hit wherever it is shown, especially if it is adapted locally.” There also will be an unusual mix of celebs on hand to hobnob with buyers during the bazaar, including John Waters on behalf of Court TV series “Love You to Death” (aka ” ‘Til Death Do Us Part,” licensed abroad by FremantleMedia).