Recession brings caution to Mip TV

Foreign formats increasingly attractive to US

The international TV business didn’t fall off a cliff at Cannes’ 46th Mip TV mart.

But recession lashed the event, which closed April 3, sparking a variety of reactions: cost-containment, buyer caution — and a bunch of acquisitions of international formats for potential Stateside remakes.

Palais traffic was noticeably lighter, restaurants emptier and the market mood low-glam.

Little surprise there, as the number of participants for the five-day mart was down 14% from 2008 to 11,500.

Trading, inevitably, was cautious. 

The two factors causing problems for free-to-air broadcasters are a stronger dollar and sliding ad revenues, per Marion Edwards, prexy of international distribution for Twentieth Century Fox TV Distribution.

WBITD prexy Jeffrey Schlesinger agrees: Mip TV’s biggest problem is a lack of visibility on foreign networks’ future advertising revenues.

“From what I hear from broadcasters, commitments for advertising are coming in unusually late,” he says. “You can buy advertising three weeks out now.”

At Mip, WBITD abandoned its spacious Palais booth for a Croisette apartment.

“It’s incumbent on us, like everybody else, to handle our costs prospectively, because we don’t know what’s coming,” Schlesinger says.

Cost-containment was Mip’s order of the day.

Italo pubcaster RAI is trimming its acquisition budget for the next two years, though most probably not for U.S. series, says RAI Cinema general director Paolo Del Brocco.

Franchises and key territory multiyear deals cushion U.S. networks.

“There’s still a demand for our content,” says Armando Nunez, prexy of CBS Paramount Intl. TV. “An economic crisis doesn’t change what viewers think of ‘CSI.’ ” 

Indies, buyers and sellers, enjoy less shelter.

Emmanuelle Boulihaguet, Marathon Intl. managing director, says she sometimes had to lower prices to make sales. And Fernando Perez Gavillan, VP of Televisa Intl., reckons some clients will probably have problems paying on time.

Two content types are selling, per Francois de Brugada, chief operating officer at pan-European format producer Banijay Entertainment — the “next big thing” and cost-efficient shows.

Some Mip TV shows sparked buzz and buys:

  • Starz Media’s “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” had legions lining up.

  • Produced and sold by Canada’s E1 Entertainment, a drama series trio — CBS network pick-up “The Bridge,” “Copper” and “Shattered” — were among most sought-after Mip shows.

  • ShineReveille formats “Fame & Fortune” and Magical Elves-produced “Arranged Marriage” sparked major territory bidding wars.

  • Endemol’s “The Whole 19 Yards” gained heat after CBS greenlit a pilot just before Mip. 

But all signs are that producers will have to think creatively about how to make cheaper content that still returns strong ratings.

As Mip TV underscored, foreign formats are increasingly attractive to the U.S. TV biz.

Lionsgate TV bought Italian gamer “Parenti talenti” for a U.S. redo, co-produced with Mark Burnett; Scandinavia’s Nordisk sold multiple formats for American adaptation, including “Don’t Date Him Girl” to Reveille.

ShineReveille is discussing international co-financing or co-production on several Kudos scripted projects, says ShineReveille Intl. prexy Chris Grant.

Adds Jan Mojto, CEO of Germany’s Beta Film: “One feature of Mip is a sudden mental readiness of American network executives to look at non-American product. Two years ago, there was nobody to talk to.”

The recession, coming on top of last year’s WGA strike, has opened up TV horizons. In that, at least, the TV business may never be quite the same.

Nick Vivarelli contributed to this report.