Formats cede some popularity to docs, while kid shows rise

Mip is ready to roll, and when buyers get to Cannes they’ll be greeted by historical epics, intimate docudramas and procedurals of every flavor.

The confab runs April 4-7, during what is otherwise a slow time for the international TV business. Falling between January’s NATPE and May’s L.A. Screenings, Mip comes early enough before upfronts that buyers are aware of what’s coming down the pike, but not so soon that buyers arewilling to commit to expensive acquisitions.

“With the Internet, buyers around the world know what’s going on every minute of every day,” says Gary Lico, president and CEO of CableReady. “There really tends to not be much at Mip that people don’t already know about.”

Formats, which are usually a hot topic around the international markets, aren’t making much noise this year, whereas in the recent past buyers salivated over such shows as Shine’s “MasterChef,” Simon Cowell’s “X Factor” and FremantleMedia’s “Pop Idol,” which now represents the granddaddy of formats.

“There’s typically a stampede toward anything that even smells like a format,” Lico says.

Of course, many companies are bringing formats to Mip, such as Rive Gauche’s “My Strange Addiction,” which features people addicted to everything from tanning to eating the filling out of their couch cushions, but nothing seems to be on the verge of breaking out.

Some companies are digging out old formats and recycling them: Hat Trick Intl. is finding new interest in its old improv format “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” which had a popular run on ABC from 1998-2004 with host Drew Carey and performers including Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles.

“There is definitely a hunger for comedy right now,” Hat Trick sales director Sarah Tong says. “People always want to laugh and be entertained. If it’s well-made, comedy is the cornerstone of a lot of network schedules.”

photos/_specials_arts/MIP_tipsheet.jpg” vspace=”3″ hspace=”3″ align=”left”>In place of those sought-after formats, buyers continue to swirl around factual programming, shows such as Discovery’s “Deadliest Catch,” TLC’s “Sister Wives” and “Cake Boss” and A&E’s “Hoarders,” that depict people living their lives or doing their jobs.

“A lot of buyers tell us that they are looking for real-life but not lifestyle programming,” Lico says. “The difference is that the real-life stuff feels like whatever is going on there would happen even if the cameras weren’t there.”

On the fiction side, epic historical dramas continue to capture buyers’ attention. GK-TV will premiere “Camelot,” starring Joseph Fiennes as Merlin and Eva Green as Morgan, during the conference, shortly after Starz launches the drama Stateside on April 1.

CBS Studios Intl. (with the clever acronym CSI, after the studios’ most successful franchise) will be showing buyers “The Borgias,” starring Jeremy Irons as the Spaniard who became a most unholy pope; the series will bow in a two-hour premiere April 3 on Showtime.

Procedural dramas — that staple of U.S. primetime, cable networks and syndication — continue to sell well abroad.

“We are not reinventing the wheel,” says Tobias de Graff, director of global television distribution at ITV Studios Global Entertainment. “People are always looking for self-contained procedural dramas.”

Highly successful British outfit ITV has that in spades, offering buyers such shows as “Monroe,” about a genius neurosurgeon with a lot of personal demons (think “House”), and “Vera,” starring Brenda Blethyn as a tough-minded detective.

Likewise, CSI will be showing buyers its new hits, “Hawaii Five-0″ and “Blue Bloods,” although most of the studio’s customers acquired those shows last spring.

That delay between when the shows are announced in the U.S. and they premiere abroad also makes Mip’s timing tough. “Hawaii Five-0″ just premiered in Germany last month, says CSI prexy Armando Nunez.

Kids TV isn’t a big focus at Mip, but some distributors are discovering that the international kids’ market represents a big growth opportunity.

“The kids’ business has become more and more interesting across the globe with the growth of digital and terrestrial television distribution platforms,” says MarVista CEO Fernando Szew. “A lot of those new channels have some sort of kid-driven strategy, and that’s replacing what had been a pay-TV model in the past.”

MarVista is offering “Prank Patrol” from Canada’s Apartment 11 and distributes the long-running kids’ program “Power Rangers” for Saban Entertainment. (Saban was the show’s original producer. Last May, the company reacquired rights to the franchise from Disney, which took over the program when News Corp. sold Fox Family Worldwide to Disney in 2001.)

Nickelodeon recently has had success with its live-action, limited-run series “House of Anubis,” which spooled out an ongoing mystery for kids to solve, says Steve Grieder, exec VP of Nickelodeon Intl. and MTV Networks program sales.

“Anubis” was adapted from a telenovela format created from a British show that was a hit in Holland and Germany. The show’s success has turned international distributors on to the idea that perhaps telenovelas — the hot Latin format — might be the next big thing for kids.

“The success of some of the kids’ brands that originated in television, like ‘Hannah Montana’ or ‘High School Musical,’ is raising people’s eyebrows,” Szew says. “These shows have become major franchises, and those sorts of success stories attract a lot of people.”

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