Mood unexpectedly bright post Mipcom

Station buyers were ripe to do deals

CANNES — Hollywood’s heavyweights will begin coming home today from the 17th annual Mipcom TV trade show happier about business than they expected to be.

Despite the caveats — a worldwide ad slump, smaller budgets for acquisitions and the ongoing terrorist threat — top sellers say the right station buyers were on the Riviera and were in the mood to sign on the dotted line.

“The major players are here. We’ve accomplished what we set out to achieve, especially in Europe,” Warner Bros. Intl. TV topper Jeffrey Schlesinger told Daily Variety.

His company is in any case somewhat insulated from the gyrations in the Euro advertising market because it enjoys output deals in almost all major territories. His only cloud is Germany — where an output deal with financially troubled Kinowelt has become a headache.

Schlesinger believes that smaller production budgets in Europe could lead to stations putting more U.S. product back in primetime, since producing their own local shows costs so much more. “In other words, it could cycle around to their buying more imports, and putting them into primetime. If our shows start to work in those slots on Euro stations, they might just be inclined to keep them there,” he said.

Disney execs, too, said that the market, notwithstanding its somber tone, turned out to be “more focused” than they had expected.

Disney pleased

“We clocked about 20 deals while here,” Disney’s London-based international TV topper David Hulbert said, referring mainly to deals for movies, new series “Alias” and “Scrubs” and the reality show “Amazing Race.”

The reality adventure show was snapped up by Sky One in the U.K., SABC in South Africa, Channel 7 in Oz, TVB in Hong Kong, MediaCorp in Singapore, IBC in Iceland and Sony’s action channel AXN. The Mouse House had producer Bertram van Munster in tow to glad-hand with prospective buyers. Apparently it helped.

Meanwhile over at the Sony stand, Columbia TriStar exec VP Peter Iacono pointed out that, despite the international cash crunch, what is spent is being spent on the essentials. That increasingly means movies and series from the Hollywood majors.

Spain and France, Iacono pointed out, are particularly competitive right now. He is close to finalizing a major deal in Italy, with pubcaster RAI. Even Middle East buyers were on hand: Iacono concluded a format deal with Lebanon’s LBC for the reality show “Russian Roulette.”

Sony touts movies

Sony execs are also already talking up their 2002 movie slate, which on paper at least looks like an impressive one — everything from sequels to “Men in Black” and “Stuart Little” to “The Panic Room.” Movies are still the driving force of the studios’ output deals, and Sony has not typically sold off the rights to its movies to third party distribs. (Split rights is a practice that increasingly rankles with foreign TV station buyers, who end up not getting the titles they bargained on.)

For MGM, too, the market turned out to be an efficient place to do business. The Lion is now repping NBC’s series, which thanks to “Will & Grace,” “Providence” and newcomer “Crossing Jordan,” is turning out to be a nice complement to the studio’s movie supply.

The company’s TV topper Jim Griffiths was particularly upbeat about Britain, a notoriously difficult market for Yank product. “We’re meeting with all the main players on Thursday,” he said, “and we even have an output proposal in that market.” Griffiths also lunched with RTL’s top gun Gerhard Zeiler to work toward an output deal with the top-rated Teutonic station.

If Mipcom for the majors was reasonably rosy, the same can’t be said for the tiny indies that still toil in the side aisles of the Palais.

“Trust me, many of them will be out of business in six months if the worldwide recession digs in,” one veteran international consultant on the Croisette said.

Saban swallowed

One of the last of the mid-sized players, Saban, worked the Palais for the last time as an indie. The company is being swallowed up by Disney, but true to the indie ethic, Saban staffers worked the market as intensely as ever.

Saban Intl. prexy Stan Golden took daily back-to-back meetings with buyers from 9 a.m to 6:30 p.m. He couldn’t discuss his sales strategy because of the ongoing takeover, but he did say that most all his clients had turned up. “Broadcasters are still buying product: It’s just that they’re focused on their key needs, forgoing the fluff.”

One such buyer did say he regretted “the passing” of Saban: “It gives us fewer options. There’s just too much conglomeration.”

Mipcom officially wraps Friday, but most of the 10,000 participants will head home today.

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