Sales and volume of content rise as execs' mood improves

The money is returning, but will the quality so evident in shows like AMC’s “Mad Men” and HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” continue to set high standards in an international TV marketplace still concerned about what the digital future holds?

That was one of the questions buyers were asking themselves as a largely rejuvenated Mipcom sales mart attended by some 12,000 media types wrapped its five-day run Oct 8.

“The volume of production is definitely up from last year,” says Aline Marrache-Tesseraud, acquisitions topper at France’s Canal Plus. “But as far as the quality of the shows, we think it’s an OK year. It’s not a particularly innovative phase for U.S. drama, as there are a lot of traditional copshows and very few series that stand out.”

However, compared with the Mip-TV mart six months ago, the mood around the corridors of Cannes’ Palais de Congress was noticeably upbeat.

A high turnout of celebs and creative heavyweights, chiefly flown in from across the Atlantic, added to the mainly vibrant vibe on the Croisette.

“Mad Men” castmembers Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss; and Robert Redford, present on the Riviera to celebrate his Sundance Channel’s first European anniversary, were among the talent flown in to impress buyers and to keep the media sweet.
Oliver Stone was interviewed by David Frost, to shine some light on his avowedly “left-of-center” 12-parter “The Untold History of the United States,” charting the U.S.’ last 60 years.

Not even a cloudburst that flooded Warner Bros.’ luxurious seafront stand on the sales jamboree’s opening day could wash away the prevailing sense of renewed confidence evident among the international TV community.
“At Mip, people started talking about doing business again. Now deals are getting done,” says NBC Universal’s international channels maven Roma Khanna.

Observes Catherine Powell, Disney’s senior VP for international distribution: “One thing I’ve noticed about this Mipcom is that unlike a year ago, the finance directors are no longer present at every meeting with a potential buyer. This time, we could have a creative discussion.”

As content owners announced new deals and partnerships, few could complain about a lack of fare being shown to broadcasters by distributors.

Paybox Canal Plus picked up NBC’s high concept “The Event,” sold to nearly 200 countries; and ABC’s “Body of Proof” for its 2011 schedule.

“We saw many interesting international drama projects,” Marrache-Tesseraud adds, “but they’re still in the financing stage.”

One such initiative is a new take on the sinking of the Titanic that will look at the oft-told story from the perspective of the U.K.’s then deeply class-conscious society.

Pitching the show to potential financiers of the ITV Studios-led miniseries was British scribe Julian Fellowes. Onboard are Canadian broadcaster CanWest and Ireland’s TV3, but more coin is needed before the project is ready to set sail.

Significantly, in one of the highlights of the conference program, Lionsgate CEO and co-chairman Jon Feltheimer — the market’s personality of the year — warned against the traditional co-production model, where partners from different cultures are keen to collaborate but can end up pleasing no one.
Meanwhile, while distribs are always understandably tight-lipped about how much buyers are paying, deflation remains a concern for many at Mipcom, despite the bullish mood.
“The market is bouncing back, but prices have dropped,” says Zodiak Rights sales director Emmanuelle Bouilhaguet. “And buyers are looking for identifiable properties from well-established producers.”

This point was reiterated by Tony Cohen, CEO of FremantleMedia, the companbehind hit franchises “X Factor” and “Got Talent.”

“The big formats will always sell, but new programming is more challenging,” Cohen says. “A lot of broadcasters, having been through a very difficult time last year, are still being very cautious about reinvesting.”

Richard Desmond, the new owner of U.K. web Channel 5, pressed the flesh with his U.S. counterparts.

“He’s an interesting cat who is bringing some out-of-the-box thinking to the U.K. TV market,” MGM’s prexy of worldwide television Gary Marenzi says.
With luck, he and many others of the 4,000 or so buyers who made the Mipcom rounds will open their checkbooks and ensure there’s no backsliding from a market now firmly in recovery.

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