Business was brisk despite drop in attendance

CANNES — There were fewer folk pacing the corridors of the Palais de Festivals than a year ago, but all the key players were present.  

That was the consensus at the 25th edition of Mipcom, which wrapped Oct. 9, as attendees from more than 103 countries baked in the unseasonable heat.    

“There are less people here than a year ago. Some of the stands are very quiet, but the people that have come are the ones you want to talk to — people who are serious about doing business,” says Stephen Garrett, who runs U.K. production company Kudos, part of the Shine Group.

Organizer Reed Midem says numbers were down from last fall’s all-time high — some 13,000 attendees — as around 12,000 media people made the trek to the French Riviera. This was 500 more than April’s Mip mart, according to Reed. (Like Variety, Reed Midem is a subsid of Reed Elsevier.)

In an uncertain economy, the mood at the Palais des Festivals was one of cautious optimism that business might be reviving as dealmakers returned to the Croisette.   

“People are still buying. There is pressure on price and margins, and we need to be more imaginative about sharing the risk, but we have recently seen an extraordinary rise in audiences in some of the territories that we operate in,” says Tony Cohen, CEO of global production powerhouse FremantleMedia.

All the major U.S. studios were trading in Cannes.

CBS Studios Intl. prexy Armando Nunez says that while the world economy remains challenged, he feels the worst is over.

“No one is being foolishly optimistic by thinking everything is going to come back tomorrow,” Nunez says. “It is going to take a while, but in general, the revenue model that is the international TV business overall has held up well.”    

At Lionsgate, Craig Cegielski, executive VP of programming and sales for international TV, says his company had closed deals on all parts of its catalog. “Overall, the market has felt smaller and slower than in years past, but we’ve had a surprisingly good Mipcom,” Cegielski says. “More than ever, broadcasters realize the impact that a great brand like ‘Mad Men’ can have on a channel’s profile.”

ITV Global director of formats Remy Blumenfeld says buyers also were looking for shows with a good track record or ones that “change the grammar of TV.”

Sophie Turner Laing, managing director of entertainment and news for the U.K.’s BSkyB, a big player in the acquisitions market, was upbeat about Mipcom. “There’s a welcome return to talking about content, and a renewed focus on innovation,” she says. “We’ve been pitched some very big projects.”

But over at giant Gallic pay box Canal Plus, Aline Marrache-Tesseraud, topper of foreign-fiction acquisition, says the choice of blockbuster series had decreased during the past year.

“Often we see only one series per network with mainstream appeal,” Marrache-Tesseraud says. “That forces us to be take more risks.”

Christine Reinaudo, acquisitions topper of youth content for French pubcaster France Televisions, notes that many shows on offer had been in development for up to three years. “Most of the new programs that I’ve seen here aren’t completed or financed,” she says. “We’ll have to wait for Mip TV in April to see how they  shape up.”

Francois Florentiny, Flow Prods. CEO and creative consultant for Banijay, notes a large volume of old stock for unscripted formats, but says scripted fare was more promising. “Formats like ZZJ’s ‘You’re Not Alone’ are really taking off and opening up new channels of creativity,” he says.

Ultimately, attendees expressed a mix of relief and optimism that the market had been a more chipper place to be than a year ago, when the world’s economy faced meltdown.

“Even if there are fewer buyers and participants, the big networks are all represented and they’re more reactive than we’ve seen at previous markets,” says Emmanuelle Bouilhaguet, scripted sales director at Zodiak Entertainment.

Among deals at the mart:

  • Canal Plus and Germany’s EOS greenlit a 12-hour $30 million English-language version of “The Borgias,” scripted by Tom Fontana and exec-produced by ex-HBO topper Chris Albrecht and Anne Thomopoulos.

  • Universal Networks and distributor E1 Entertainment will co-finance a 13-part thriller, “Haven,” based on Stephen King’s “The Colorado Kid.”

  • Disney licensed “FlashForward” to more than 100 territories, calling it “the fastest-selling series in our history.”

  • Starz Media launched drama “Spartacus: Blood and Sand.”

  • ITV Studios will develop several Mattel board game brands into international TV formats and multi-platform properties. It sold more than 150 hours of sports programming to ESPN Classic. Canal Plus bought the ITV/AMC remake of ’60s cult show “The Prisoner.”

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