Blizzard of program sales, licensing pacts were announced

Six months ago the international TV tribe returned from the MipTV market in Cannes anxious about the future.

Following Mipcom, which wrapped Thursday, they headed home in a more hopeful mood after being told by U.S. studio toppers that digital had saved their businesses. The blizzard of program sales and licensing pacts announced during the market certainly reinforced all the optimistic talk of the global TV biz rocketing to new heights.

In a gung-ho presentation, Disney/ABC Television Group prexy Anne Sweeney told the crowd, “Digital technology didn’t disrupt our business, it transformed it. Digital didn’t weaken the power of television, it unleashed it.”

Execs hope she’s right, though some maintain it’s still too early to tell.

Media stocks remain far from buoyant, advertising markets in Europe are twitchy, and the doom brigade predicts a second recession in Western economies.

Yet there was no denying the mood at Mipcom was buoyant among buyers and sellers alike.All the big U.S. studios were present, as were such newcomers as Miramax and a big crowd from Russia, where the ad market is a booming €3.5 billion ($4.6 billion) a year.

So given the economy, why so much buzz at Mipcom?

For starters, TV viewing is up virtually everywhere, partly because people stay in more during tough times.

Disney said the global TV aud will grow to 3.7 billion people this year, and viewing will increase by what Sweeney described as a “staggering 140 billion hours.”

Some of this is driven by the rise of social media and the fact that broadcasters began commissioning again when a shallow economic recovery kicked in around 18 months ago. In other words, the content pipeline has begun to flow again.

At Mipcom, Disney was showing clients several new shows, including Ashley Judd starrer “Missing,” pre-sold to 80 territories and premiered at the market.

The Mouse House was also talking up video-on-demand, which, according to BBC Worldwide topper Steve Macallister, has reached “a tipping point.”

New VOD platforms, especially in such markets as Russia and its former republics, are hungry for content — and despite complex rights negotiations, distributors are mainly happy to oblige.

Kevin Reilly, prexy of entertainment for Fox Broadcasting, said: “Potent TV franchises can migrate across all technologies and behaviors. We’re no longer at a place where content gives way to technology. They need us and we need them.”

But VOD, like traditional TV, needs advertisers and subscribers. Should debt-laden economies slow down still further, a collapse in ad spending is likely to follow.

Content owners must ensure they don’t end up shooting themselves in the foot by inking deals with online operators that they later regret. ”

The key is to ensure that we look at these new opportunities without cannibalizing our content,” said CBS Studios Intl. prexy Armando Nunez prexy, a marketgoer for three decades.

“The first two days of Mipcom were busier than they were for the last two years, but we don’t sell shoes.

“It is the quality of the traffic, but the clients are all here. It’s been a very good market, both in terms of traditional and nontraditional players.”

Jane Millichip, managing director at Zodiak Rights London, struck a more cautious note: “At this market we sensed buyers were taking risks on new ideas. We hope a double-dip recession will not kill this off before it really kicks in.”

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