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MipTV Celebrates 50th Birthday With No Midlife Crisis

Market evolves and thrives amid fond memories of past — though happily with less cigarette smoke

As miptv celebrates its 50th birthday, the venerable program market shows few discernible signs of middle-age meltdown.

Attendance at the spring sales bash in Cannes ebbs and flows depending on factors both macro- and micro-economic, and the price of a cafe au lait or something just a little bit stronger on the French Riviera is often higher than the heels that get trashed on the Croisette during a hefty downpour.

But even in a connected world linked by tablets and smartphones, dealmakers crave the facetime that MipTV provides.

“We have 13 different offices around the world,” says Armando Nunez, prexy-CEO of CBS Global Distribution Group. “Today you can screen and talk online, but ultimately we need to have that face-to-face contact with our clients that Mip gives us.”

This view is widely shared by his peers. “I once had a negotiating session at Mip that lasted seven or eight hours straight,” says A&E Networks exec veep of international Sean Cohan. “It was exhausting, but the deal got done. You can’t do that on a phone call.”

Adds BSkyB content topper Sophie Turner Laing: “In any trading environment, there is a need for people to be together.”

Turner Laing and Nunez are Mip veterans. They met at the market in the early 1980s, when Turner Laing was selling shows for Jim Henson, while Nunez worked for ABC.

At the time, all the distributors’ stands were located in the basement of the Palais, where no small number of sales types enjoyed a cigarette.

“There you were in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, and you’d be stuck in the bunker with all this tobacco smoke,” recalls Nunez. “I remember when I got back home, I’d always be sick.”

 

Broadcasting deregulation had yet to hit Europe. In the early 1980s, most countries had a dominant pubcaster and a single commercial web, if that — a hard-to-imagine universe compared with today’s complex TV ecology, which embraces multiple digital windows alongside traditional linear free-to-air and pay platforms.

“The appetite for American shows was huge because most Europeans didn’t have a production infrastructure to satisfy demand from local broadcasters,” Nunez says. “Back then I used to say you could sell pictures of your family.”

In an era of videocassette tapes, the technology was primitive for sales execs hoping to clinch a deal. Turner Laing remembers arriving in Cannes only to find the audio track was missing from the cassette containing an episode of Fraggle Rock.

No matter: A colleague, Mark Grenside, was deployed to improvise the voiceover on the spot.

“At its heart, TV is a collaborative business,” Turner Laing says.

Bernadette Lafont, Evelyne Leclercq and Marie-France Pisier step out in 1975 .
Attending Mip year in, year out inevitably involves a strong element of Groundhog Day. Viacom Intl. senior international program sales veep Caroline Beaton is a 23-year market veteran.

“You’re either preparing for Mip or getting over the last market,” she explains, just a little bit ruefully. “It is a highly efficient market, but not everything always goes to plan.”

Not that long ago, one of her assistants invited the wrong client to a fine dinner (courtesy of Viacom) at an upscale eatery in medieval Mougins, a short car hop from Cannes — and a favorite spot of Picasso’s.

“The meal ended up costing more than the client spent with us in a whole year,” Beaton says. “But it’s all part of the Mip experience.”

While fine French dining washed down with a large glass of Provencal rose remains a Mip staple, one reason that the sales gathering has endured for so long is an ability to quickly adapt to a fast-changing business.

Seasoned sales man Greg Phillips, now prexy of Content Television, made his Mip debut in the late 1970s working for EMI Films & TV.

“It was tiny — and huge fun,” he says. “Buyers looked at the promos and if they liked (them) bought the show on the spot. Everyone then went to the beach or the casino and had a good time. Now the business is much more challenging and stimulating. There are profound commercial pressures.”

Phillips points out that Mip is more than just a market these days, much to its long-term benefit.

“You learn things at the conference program and hear from some key players from the U.S. and around the world,” he says. “Provided it continues to evolve, Mip is not going to go away.”

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