Mip TV kicks off in Cannes

As U.S. bizzers traipse to Cannes’ Croisette for next week’s Mip TV mart, the big questions are: Will prices for Hollywood shows hold — and will foreign buyers clamor for more of them?

Just in the last few months, “Heroes” and “Ugly Betty” have joined a dozen other U.S. series in racking up record license fees and impressive ratings from overseas broadcasters.

Can this last?

Ask any of the Hollywood program suppliers, and they’ll tell you the expansion in TV outlets abroad, and the cost-effective performance of U.S. shows on foreign skeds, can only mean the good times will continue.

“There is no lack of competitive juices flowing among buyers,” Warner Bros. Intl. TV prexy Jeffrey Schlesinger told Daily Variety. For the right American show, he added, foreign program buyers will step up, whatever pronouncements to the contrary they’ve made to the press.

If you ask the Brits, they’ll demur.

The half-dozen top U.K. program buyers spent unprecedented sums in the last year to tie up Yank series, and having watched some of these shows flame out, they’re now vowingthat they’ll never fork out so much again.

The mood at the Mip trade show, running April 16-20, and the level of business conducted there will provide an indication of what’s in store for the next couple of years.

Certainly, the Americans, both the majors and indie distributors, are bullish on their prospects. So much so that various newcomers to the game — from doc distrib Cinema Libre to indie pic purveyor GreeneStreet to syndication specialist Program Partners — have decided they too need to get in on the buoyant international TV action.

So, whatever signs there are that European broadcasters are now chock-a-block with Yank fare (and reluctant to pay more than they think it’s worth), veteran sellers and first-timer distribs are pouring into the Riviera resort with product of all shapes and sizes.

The granddaddy of global TV sales bazaars will, in fact, open its doors Monday to a robust contingent of rights traders, some 12,500, and biz is expected to be brisk.

Hollywood fare, especially drama series, reality shows and hit movies, have commanded steep prices abroad for several years.

Warners is usually the largest single supplier of primetime series to the international market, though a half-dozen of its most recent fall crop (“The Nine,” “Smith,” “Justice”) died on the vine — and thus withered on foreign skeds as well.

“Not every year is a hit-making year,” Schlesinger said, adding that Warner Bros.’ TV production unit is making a shift for the upcoming pilot season.

“Dark, dense and complicated plots are out: There’ll be more upbeat, lighthearted fare. That seems to be what audiences want more of, at home and abroad,” Schlesinger said.

The level of financial commitment by the studios to primetime network fare means that selling them smartly to foreign broadcasters is crucial for making up deficits.

Schlesinger pointed to several pilots developed by his studio that, if picked up, are likely to be winners with foreign buyers. He’ll begin trying to whet buyers’ appetites for these at Mip. Among them are the noisy, action-oriented “Sarah Connor Chronicles” for Fox and the fairy tale-like “Pushing Daisies” for ABC.

From other majors, there’s a likely “Bionic Woman” redo for next season (distribbed by NBC Universal) as well as a spinoff of “Grey’s Anatomy” (distribbed by Disney).

If picked up Stateside, they’ll hope to join the dozen U.S. series — from established hits such as “The Simpsons,” “ER” and “CSI” to relative newcomers like “House,” “Prison Break” and “Without a Trace” — which are percolating on primetime skeds across Europe.

As for Hollywood movies, they’ve taken a back seat in recent years on terrestrial stations abroad, as folks started buying DVDs. But new media are coming to the rescue.

“There are a lot of ancillary avenues to explore,” said MGM international TV topper Jim Packer. He’s pumped because the recent “Casino Royale” has, in his view, “revitalized” the entire James Bond franchise for TV deals abroad. And, Packer added, he now has a couple of high-profile titles from the United Artists banner to talk about.

And not a week goes by that a Hollywood major doesn’t unveil a video-on-demand, subscription VOD or IPTV deal somewhere in the world. The money is not huge in this ancillary so far, but the dimes are starting to add up.

India alone is undergoing a tech revolution that will soon see three additional direct-to-home platforms join the two existing players and a half-dozen industrial congloms lay down fiber optic networks to millions of apartment buildings.

Thus, even if Europe were to take a breather from U.S. product, the prospects in emerging markets like India, Eastern Europe and the Middle East are bright.

At any of the seven Hollywood majors, the top international TV exec is likely to have just returned from a fact-finding or dealmaking jaunt: Schlesinger just returned from India; Disney’s Laurie Younger from Dubai; Sony’s Michael Grindon from Asia.

But the five-day sales bazaar doesn’t just entice or end with the Hollywood majors.

Among the U.S. indies that hope to make a splash in Cannes:

  • Starz Media comes to market with its first series for cable, “Painkiller Jane,” which premiers soon on the Sci Fi Channel Stateside and will be licensed abroad by Tandem of Germany.

  • Ben Silverman’s Reveille hits the Croisette with dozens of deals in place for its two network gameshows, “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” and “Identity.”

  • Movie distrib GreeneStreet will be exhibiting for the first time, bringing the Russell Crowe thriller “Tenderness” and Ray Liotta starrer “Slow Burn.”

  • Gavin Reardon’s And Action, which is partnered with a Teutonic company called Action Concept, is focusing on bang-‘em-up series aimed at the European market. “Wake Up and Die” is the biggest project his company is handling.

  • Program Partners will be testing the waters on its upcoming firstrun gameshow strip “Let’s Do Crosswords,” a Merv Griffin concept being pitched as a cross between “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy.”

  • Alfred Haber, who is celebrating 40 years in the biz, will be fielding “Iron Chef” and “Bull Run,” among several other recent pickups. Company has just finished licensing the recent Grammy Awards with 175 broadcasters around the world.

His eight salesmen have penciled in 265 meetings altogether with buyers during the five days in Cannes.

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