Economic slowdown seen to spur sales

CANNES — Attendance at this week’s 24th Mipcom TV mart hit an all-time high of 13,545 participants.

One reason was an 8% hike in buyers, driven by increased attendance from Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe, Mipcom organizer Reed Midem announced Thursday in Cannes.

Another reason is that the looming economic slowdown may well be goosing rather than damaging the international TV biz, Reed Midem TV division director Paul Johnson argued.

Running Oct.13-17, the trade fair, though hardly a normal edition, largely bore Johnson out. By Wednesday afternoon, as it began to wind down, a mart that had begun in gloom was ending with some vroom. Sellers were spying silver linings in the fundamental challenges facing large broadcast networks all over Europe: shrinking market share, eroded by DTT, satellite and cable, and a downturn in TV ad revs.

“It’s going to be different market to market,” said Marion Edwards, Twentieth Century Fox’s international TV distribution prexy.

But in general, “if your advertising revenues go down, chances are you’re going to look to try to balance your budget by acquiring more programming, which is way less expensive than producing,” Edwards said.

Gary Marenzi, MGM co-prexy, worldwide television distribution, was confident that broadcasters would continue to need high quality content.

“They will continue to fight the fight for eyeballs, and it is our job as producers and distributors to get the best product to them,” he said.

On the downside, the effects of the WGA strike were still disrupting trading.

“Most studios will still be presenting shows in the upcoming months. Mipcom’s less of a conclusive event this year,” said one European broadcaster buyer.

So shows’ sales cycles were way out of sync.

A WBITV duo — “Fringe,” “The Mentalist” — ranked among most- talked-about Yank dramas. Both, first seen at May’s L.A. Screenings, have virtually sold out, said WBITV prexy Jeffrey Schlesinger.

Canada’s CTV bought both. In Blighty, Sky One took “Fringe” and Five nabbed “Mentalist.” Elsewhere, the skeins have been put through volume/output deals, such as Italy’s Mediaset, Spain’s TVE/Forta, France’s TF1 and Canal Plus, Germany’s ProSieben and Australia’s Nine Network.

At CBS Paramount, “90210” has sold “extremely well throughout the world,” said international prexy Armando Nunez, citing placements with Canada’s Global, Australia’s Ten Network, Spain’s Telecinco, Italy’s RAI and France’s M6.

At Fox, “Life on Mars” and Tim Roth procedural “Lie to Me” were sparking the most interest. “Lie” is a mid-season U.S. bow.

A Disney duo talked up by some buyers — “Castle” and “Cupid” — also bow midseason. Some foreign acquisitions execs will want to see U.S. ratings before buying.

Not that the Mouse House has to worry about pulling down deals. A flurry of Croisette announcements showed Disney-ABC-ESPN pushing out on new-media pacts — inking with Microsoft to deliver content from Disney’s Stage 9 Digital Media to MSN Video viewers in Europe — while bulwarking trade biz — a three-year volume deal with Spain’s Antena 3, and teaming with Discovery for a Latin American version of “The Amazing Race.”

Other Mipcom buzz shows included NBU U’s “Knight Rider” and “My Own Worst Enemy”; Marathon’s frosh toon series “The Amazing Spiez!” and “Gormiti”; ShineReveille Intl.’s “Desperate Measures”; ITV’s reality-come-drama “Britannia High”; FremantleMedia’s “Merlin”; and a tsunami of retro gameshows, led by Endemol’s big new quizzer “20Q.”

By Wednesday, as execs left town, major suppliers had formulated a take on how biz might be going forward.

“Investments in the coming year, if not years, may be far more cautious. There will be a larger openness to joint ventures, co-productions, taking lower risks,” said Kevin MacLellan, prexy, Comcast Intl. Media Group.

Euro broadcasters’ share and ad downturns may have upsides.

For Schlesinger, “Market fragmentation’s a good and a bad thing. It makes it tougher for the major terrestrial networks to aggregate a bigger share, but for us it creates a lot of new clients to sell to.

“If you look at the U.K., multichannel TV’s seeing a major change, whether it’s Virgin One, Living, Bravo, the Hallmark Channels, the NBC Universal channels, or FX, those channels are starting to grow up and pay significant license fees, and they’re an outlet for programs we can’t sell to terrestrial.”

Echoed Marathon prexy Pascal Breton: “There are a lot of new players, especially digital networks in Europe. They don’t have money to produce, they have money to buy.”

According to Nunez, “In many cases, it’s too soon to tell about the repercussions of economic slowdown.” But “Broadcasters will still need programming. Nothing has changed that strong appetite for the kind of content we produce and distribute.”

Beta Film prexy Jan Mojto, with 28 years in the business, also agreed. A crisis “won’t affect very much the TV business. We provide the cheapest entertainment when your budget is limited.”

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