TV marts deal during economic downturn

Shows with proven track records stay in demand

In a grimly and rapidly decling economic climate where few industries can clearly forecast their futures, the business of TV is no different and the overall pricing impact going into Mipcom remains to be seen.

While it’s clear advertising revenues are suffering, the downturn hasn’t had the same impact in every market or on every show, explains CBS Studios Intl. prexy Armando Nunez.

“You’re not going to put up color bars, so you still need content,” Nunez says. “So the demand for that content is still strong, but budgets are more constrained now.”

MGM worldwide television distribution co-prexy Gary Marenzi also sees varying types of recovery and strain across the world.

“It’s spotty,” he says, “and it depends on which territory you’re in with respect to pricing. There are signs of the Russian market coming back. There are signs in Australia of things coming back. It’s not clear when the recession will work itself out. But there really is an air of cautiousness overall.”

Nunez believes Western Europe is making a comeback as well, though it’s unclear “when the bounce back will take place or how high that bounce will be.”

For now, tighter purse strings are making for different buying decisions.

“People obviously don’t have the deep pockets they used to have, because it used to be that everything you had would get licensed,” says Twentieth Century Fox international TV distribution prexy Marion Edwards. “For the stuff they want, they’ll still pay — but now some content may just not actually get licensed.”

Shows with proven track records in ratings continue to be in demand, Edwards says. Programs with less going for them — fewer big names in their cast or unproven success — have a much harder time in the marketplace.

“We’ve never seen a recession like this. We’ve never seen a global meltdown like this,” Marenzi notes. “I’ve been through these cycles several times before this one, and it just makes the quality of the product and then windowing your product even more key to managing through the recession.”

Still, some would say caution in the TV markets isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.

“I don’t necessarily agree that everything is different now,” Nunez says. “This is a mature marketplace, our buyers are savvy, and it’s always been an atmosphere of careful buying. It’s only different in the degree of caution that things have changed.”

Looking back over the years leading up to this downturn, Kevin MacLellan — now Comcast Intl. Media Group prexy and former director of programming of HBO Intl. — thinks some of the previous price jumps may have been due to an expectation that new media and new forms of delivery would generate tremendous profits.

“After years of seeing double-digit increases in the 1990s and big increases even in the early 2000s, I think there was this optimism that somehow new media would bring us all this revenue,” MacLellan says. “That never happened. But I don’t think what’s happening now is just a correction due to that optimism. There are obviously more things happening than that right now.”

Many agree it’s difficult if not impossible to say when a recovery will happen or even what that recovery will look like, given changes to the overall world economy as well as emerging forms of delivery like mobile and Internet content.

“People are moving forward,” Edwards says. “We’re seeing a lot of markets in the early stages of recovery but, whether they will get back to the rates of the 1990s or the early 2000s, we just don’t know that yet.”

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