TV mart maps cautious attitude

The 46th Mip TV mart will bow today transfixed by recession obsessions, the biggest of which is whether international TV trading can hold up as the economic downturn lengthens.

With that outlook unclear, Mip TV 2009 looks set to be dominated by a clutch of Cs: caution, cost-cutting, co-production and consolidation. All these trends set out to avoid a new four-letter word: risk.

“Finance being tight, clearly people are managing risk — one reason driving renewed interest in international co-productions,” said Laurine Garaude, Reed Midem Television Division acting director.

Just before Mip, new Euro production giant Zodiak said it was courting U.S. showrunners to make cross-Atlantic co-productions.

More U.S.-European linkups — Euro deals with U.S. producers, U.S. reversioning of Euro shows — will be announced during Mip. Holding multiyear product deals in many territories, the studios are sitting fairly pretty.

Beyond those deals, with ad revs plummeting, Mip TV should serve some indication as to whether international broadcast nets “look set to limit acquisitions to must-haves,” as one U.S. exec forecast Sunday, or ramp up acquisitions to replace far costlier local production.

Some fare was creating buzz as execs arrived: RDF Rights’ miniseries “Being Human,” Televisa’s “Summer of Love,” and AETN Intl. reality skein “Steven Seagal: Lawman.”

All, even “Lawman,” are fairly escapist fare. Just how well non-escapist docus hold up in recession was suggested by Mipdoc, this weekend’s two-day docu mart.

Investigative docus on the economy, environment and geopolitics are growing in popularity, according to Caroline Behar, France 5 head of acquisitions and co-productions, and Emmanuelle Bouilhaguet, head of Marathon Intl.

“People are getting more interested in what’s going on in the world, seeing how others are dealing with similar issues,” Bouilhaguet said.

But cash-strapped commissioning editors were still worried at Mipdoc about declining production budgets.

“Traditionally, we put more money into original productions, but this year, we’re spending more on acquisitions,” said National Geographic exec veep Sydney Suissa.

Many execs at Mipdoc said they were more open than ever to partnering with foreign co-producers, hiking budgets and maintaining some control over the content.

“Channel 4 needs opinionated documentaries that challenge orthodoxy but we need to be as editorially involved as possible,” said Tabitha Jackson, Channel 4 deputy commissioning editor.

Docu co-productions allow the network the option to revise and localize them afterward, she added.

Mipdoc participants dropped 9% to 452. U.S. company attendance dropped 24%.

Accreditations for Mip TV are tracking 10%-15% below 2008, Garaude said Saturday. But exhibiting companies’ presence won’t dip much at all.

“Companies are simply sending fewer execs. Everybody’s really very, very focused on business,” Garaude added.

Mip TV wraps April 3.

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