Winds of change blow at Mip

And execs say traditional broadcasters will feel chill

CANNES — TV execs were expecting Gallic strike trouble at the Mip TV mart on the French Riviera last week.

Indeed, the confab wasn’t for the fainthearted — but not because of the labor strikers, who kept their antics low-key.

Instead the trade show saw the first signs of a looming punch-up between traditional broadcasters and the would-be new TV players with names like AOL and France Telecom.

“I’m not a TV producer anymore, I’m a content producer,” pronounced reality guru Mark Burnett, one of the first to align himself with the new kids on the block.

The winds of change blew down the Croisette and through the Palais des Festivals with unrelenting persistence April 3-7.

A plethora of distribution and consumer services — video on demand, broadband Internet TV and mobile TV — are morphing production strategies, distribution deals and even business slanguage.

Had a “two-inch experience” lately? That’s watching TV on your mobile, keynote speaker Microsoft Windows’ Erik Huggers patiently informed neophytes.

Fortunately, TV distribbers are an optimistic bunch.

“Clearly there are great opportunities for us,” said Armando Nunez Jr., prexy of CBS Paramount Intl. TV, touting its series “NCIS” and “Everybody Hates Chris.” “We have a library of 70,000 hours. New life was breathed into it by the emergence of cable, then by satellite and it is seeing new life on new media platforms.”

Distribbers are quick to point out that, for now, 95% of the TV biz is still about selling programs to traditional broadcasters.

And with U.S. shows doing so well domestically and abroad, buyers are lining up. There was good buzz surrounding Universal’s “Conviction” and “Heist.”

“The competition to get the new series is extremely intense; buyers are coming earlier and earlier to learn what’s available and even attempting to secure new series,” said Sony Intl. TV exec VP Peter Iacono.

There was strong rivalry among Spanish broadcasters for upcoming hit shows following the recent launch of two terrestrial channels, Cuatro and La Sexta, and Disney’s “House” scoring way above channel averages for Cuatro.

However, ahead of the upcoming L.A. Screenings, for the majors Mip TV was a relatively laid-back affair with distribbers selling to those remaining countries that haven’t already bought their latest shows.

In general, business was reported to be robust. Even though ad revenues in major territories haven’t gone up as hoped, emerging markets were a bright spot.

“We’re still seeing growth in the central and eastern European markets,” said Warner Bros. Intl. TV prexy Jeffrey Schlesinger. “Russia is growing. The Baltic States, Bulgaria, Albania, all those markets are growing, albeit from a relatively low base.”

A Gulf Broadcasting panel had good and bad news.

Arab TV channels have proliferated to around 250, pushing up acquisition prices by as much as 300%. But a top Gulf broadcaster will still only pay $25,000 tops for an entire season of a format.

Deals announced by key players in Cannes included:

  • MGM’s upcoming launch of its MGM channel in five countries in Eastern Europe and four in Asia;

  • WBITD’s multi-year volume deal for movies and series with Polish commercial web TVN;

  • The communicative Disney unveiled as usual a slew of deals, one of which, with France Telecom for Touchstone and Miramax films, was a foretaste of deals sellers are expecting to see more of.

Like most companies now, the U.K.’s Granada has a team dedicated to working out what the deals with telcos and other new players will be.

“In the next six months there will be a lot of launches of Internet protocol TV and VOD services and our sellers have to know what is happening in each market so that they can structure the right deal,” said New Media brain Martin Blakstad, who joined the company in November.

Among its Cannes deals, Granada sold “Secret Smile” and “Love Lies Bleeding” to Gallic paybox Canal Plus.

Mip wouldn’t be Mip without a German miniseries, and this year Beta showcased costumer “The Crown Prince,” featuring Omar Sharif.

But in a sign of change in the Euro fiction mart, neighboring countries are starting to trade scripts rather than grapple with costly and culturally hard to pull off co-pros.

Italy’s procedural series “RIS” was recently adapted for French TV by TF1. Now the format has been exported to Germany (ProSieben) and Spain (Telecinco).

Backing the roll-out of Discovery’s HD channels, Discovery Channel Canada announced an HD production pact with Japan’s NHK and a high-end HD series “Discovery Atlas.”

Among the bigger Euro series was FremantleMedia’s “Prehistoric Park,” a CGI docu-drama from the makers of “Walking With Dinosaurs.”

But most attendees — there were 10,633 on day one, comparable with last year — had their eyes trained somewhat nervously on the future.

AOL’s Jonathan Miller and reality guru Burnett gave keynotes that were bluntly pessimistic about the future of commercial broadcasting, as other options woo away viewers.

In a wake-up call for the traditional players, AOL was even selling content in the shape of kids shows including its Cartoon Network success “Princess Natasha,” which bowed first on the Internet.

“The audience will decide on what kind of content it wants and how the content will be exploited,” predicted keynote speaker Gary Carter, CCO of New Platforms at FremantleMedia. “But they haven’t decided yet, because they haven’t had very many interesting offers. We must get stuff out there.”