Record number expect to clock in for Mipdoc

Big affair expected, despite absence of Discovery

NEW YORK — The pre-Mip TV documentary minimart that unspools at the Hotel Martinez in Cannes March 31-April 1 is bracing for a record number of companies registered to screen more product than ever.

Despite the absence of big guns like Discovery Communications, Mipdoc 2001 promises to be a bustling affair with just under 1,100 programs preregistered, 610 of which will be screened for the first time.

A healthy 180 distribution and production companies are set to participate. And among the 312 buyers who have preregistered, 117 are Mipdoc first timers.

Aside from buying and selling, the minimart will be a chance for docu types to examine the challenges — price pressures, more competition, more fragmentation — that are reshaping the nonfiction world.

For the first time, organizers have planned a daylong confab called Doc World, in which key commissioning editors will seek to address some of the problems facing factual producers.

Among those issues are:

  • Doc programming is increasingly skewed toward the high and low ends of the budget spectrum, leaving very little midrange items on offer.

  • New outlets, including major-brand doc-focused channels, have fueled growth but don’t yet pay the prices terrestrial players do.

  • Almost all outlets are favoring local fare, making exceptions only for event programming.

Krysanne Katsoolis, senior VP of acquisitions at Winstar TV, says with stations being more selective about what they buy, it becomes more important to get these outlets involved in projects at an early stage. In practice: Pre-sell or look for co-production partners.

For their part, broadcasters, she says, should be more flexible with respect to shorter windows, nonexclusivity and creative financing.

Not that good shows don’t still rake in the docu dough.

“Kurosawa,” the first comprehensive biopic on Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa, shot in high-definition TV, fetched a stunning $25,000 out of Sweden against a market norm of $10,000-$15,000. It was sold by Winstar.

Moreover, docu suppliers are becoming more adept at finding ways to repackage their libraries to give broadcasters a number of programming and scheduling options.

Rex Recka, VP programming for Discovery Intl., notes that he’s providing broadcasters with minipackages of themed programming.

Still other docu players are finding that by turning docs into stories, they can boost the entertainment value — and hence the marketability — of their product.

Catherine Lamour, doc director at France’s Canal Plus, points out that narrative drive propels a number of docs she is involved with, including ones devoted to natural history and social issues.

Another positive development on the docu front is the fact that computer graphics and lightweight cameras are empowering creatives to tell stories that could not have been told as dramatically in the past. CGI technology is, in fact, blurring the distinction between drama and traditional documentary storytelling.

Gayle Gilman, head of co-productions at Britain’s Channel 4 Intl., tells Variety that a series called “Extinct” did just that by bringing back to life animals that had long been dead.