Mipcom: TV World Embraces Content Revolution

2015 Mipcom wraps as one of the TV industry’s greatest bull markets of the modern TV age

The X Files Revival video
Courtesy of Fox

CANNES – With the advent of Netflix, Amazon and TV anywhere, the walls protecting an established TV world are falling down. 2015’s 31st Mipcom, which ran Oct. 5-8, was the first major TV market where this massive revolution was felt in true full force, as it played out over the TV mart’s sales, production deals, individual shows, general market trends and keynote speeches.

Over-the-top (OTT), at least for the world’s TV industry, is no longer the enemy. And at Cannes’ Mipcom trade fair content suppliers – from Hollywood’s studios and big networks and top Euro players downwards – were embracing, with unprecedented optimism, the new TV order.

Digital also drove up Mipcom attendance. 13,700 delegates made Cannes, on a par or above 2014’s figure, an all-time record. At 1,600 buyers for digital platform was 32% up in 2014.

Mipcom’s emerging status as a TV world premiere launch also made this one of the glitziest affairs on record. The world premiere of “The X-Files,” with Chris Carter in attendance, attracted a 1,000-strong industry audience, a record for a Mipcom screening.

Dennis Quaid, Kate Bosworth, Christian Cooke and Cary Elwes were in Cannes to support the international launch of Sony Picture Television’s (SPT) auction house set “The Art of More,” the BBC and The Weinstein Company organized a first-footage industry screening of “War & Peace,” with Weinstein and stars Tuppence Middleton, Lily James and Stephen Rea at the sneak peek.

“The demand for premium drama was reflected by the packed World Premiere TV Screenings and the major series that were brought to Mipcom,” noted Laurine Garaude, topper of Reed Midem’s TV division.

A central talking-point this year: The massive uptick in the demand for and production of content, especially drama. Per Dana Walden, Fox Television Studio co- chairman-CEO, addressing Mipcom in a keynote Wednesday with co-chair-CEO Gary Newman, 135 scripted shows are scheduled to air across the U.S. networks this fall, 400 throughout the year, up from 115 five years ago.

Beta chief Jan Mojto said the number of high-end TV series it was producing or co-producing would rise from 30 hours this year to 48 hours in 2017.

Responding to a high-end drama feeding frenzy, Mip TV/Mipcom organizers Reed Midem will launch a one-day World Premiere TV Screening Program on April 3, the eve of 2016’s Mip TV, which runs April 4-7, with a major focus on European drama, said Garaude.

Change is so deep, argued Armando Nuñez, president-CEO, CBS Global Distribution Group, as Mipcom wound down, because it not a new establishment replacing an old, but the across the board evolution, multiplying distribution outlets.

It’s “the result of U.S. digital companies expanding their footprint outside the U.S., the evolution of traditional free and pay platforms in each market around the world into the SVOD space; and the entry of new players, often telecom extensions,” argued Armando Nuñez, president-CEO, CBS the U.K.’s BT, Telefonica’s Movistar Plus in Spain, Foxtel with Presto in Australia.

More players look likely to follow. At Mipcom on Wednesday, Verizon-owned AOL said it was looking for a premium scripted TV drama to raise profile for Go90, its mobile TV service that launched Oct. 1.

Of all world premieres, “The X-Files” made the most impact. That reflects the perceived quality of the show.

“The X-Files” may also reflect market trends. Of September’s new drama bows in 30 markets, 20% were thrillers/genre, and another 20% “TV franchises,” revivals, spin-offs, remakes, the Wit CEO Virginia Mouseler said at Mipcom at a presentation of Fresh TV Fiction on Wednesday.

Walden and Newman said the “The X-Files” revival is unlikely to be the last reboot of a classic show to air on the U.S. network.

“SVOD viewers have certain very distinct genre interests and while drama is popular, they have a particular like for fantasy and sci-fi in particular,” said Guy Bisson, at Ampere Analysis, adding that TV drama titles accounts for 30% of all TV content licensed to SVOD platforms in the world top 10 SVOD markets by licensed titles.

In her Media Mastermind keynote, Sophie Turner Laing, CEO of Endemol Shine Group, placed large emphasis on brands – to define a channel via brand programming, and offer recognition and the appeal of trust in an increasingly cluttered content sector.

Many Mipcom 2015’s hallmark deals and defining shows fit this mould, weighing in a broadly genre items, or titles which play off brand recognition, or both:

*”Game of Thrones’” showrunner Frank Doelger is teaming with Germany’s Beta on “Perished Land,” an action-adventure fantasy series.

*Tandem Productions (“Pillars of the Earth”) has optioned “Code to Zero,” a Ken Follett spy thriller, for a limited TV drama series.

*SundanceTV will co-produce pan-Euro crime thriller “The Last Panthers,” which world premiered Monday at Cannes, with Samantha Morton and Tahar Rahim in attendance.

*A & E Networks acquired period mystery crime mini-series “The Frankenstein Chronicles,” with “Game of Thrones’” Sean Bean, from Endemol Shine Group.

*Fox Intl. Channels acquired Keshet Intl.’s “False Flag,” the first time a foreign-language series will play FIC Networks. Fox also has in the works an English-language version of the espionage/terrorist thriller, about five –apparently innocent – people who wake up to discover their faces on the news, implicated in the kidnapping of the Iranian Defence Minister.

*CBS Studios International announced that “Limitless,” a TV series spinoff of the movie with Bradley Cooper – but now starring Jake McDorman in the TV series – has clinched major territory sales, including U.K. (Sky Living), Germany (ProSiebenSat.1 Group), Italy (Raidue) and Latin America (TBS).

*ITV premiered the first episode of epic fantasy “Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands,” with stars Kieran Bew, Edward Speelers and Joanne Whalley in attendance.

*German pubcaster giant ZDF was among buyers of “The Missing,” from all3media, which confirmed placing orders for seasons 17 and 18 of rural crime drama “Midsomer Murders.”

*Keshet Intl.’s ”False Flag,” Denmark’s DR-sold and drug-trade themed “Norskov,” Swedish procedural/psychological drama “Modus,” sold by FremantleMedia Intl. Disttribution, and BBC’s “River,” about a cop literally haunted by murder victims, proved highlights of the Wit’s Fresh TV Fiction showcase.

Once there was Nordic Noir, now there is “Worldwide Noir,” Mouseler announced in her Fresh TV Fiction showcase, highlighting three “Spanish Noir” series: ”I Know Who You Are,” from Mediaset España, “Inside,” produced by La Isla Producciones; and “Plastic Sea,” sold by Atresmedia/Boomerang.

Time and again, Mipcom keynote speakers emphasized their optimism about the TV industry’s future, and their ambition. “We’re a lot more focused on cast. (…) International broadcasters have a lot of choices (…) We need to swing big and for shows that can cut through the clutter and be smart and edgy and define brands for international partners,” said Jim Packer, Lionsgate president, worldwide television & digital distribution.

New entrants will drive further growth spurring “a proliferation of platforms and ways to distribute content,” Nuñez said.

Netflix’s impact on animation is “as strong if not stronger” as on drama, argued David Michel, CEO of Cottonwood Media, producer of “The Ollie & Moon Show,” just greenlit by NBC’s Sprout for a 2017 debut.

Either fully financing 100% original shows, or taking second broadcast window rights, they rank in the same league as Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Networks, he added.

But while established players require programming that fits “their specific positioning – Disney in girl comedy, Cartoon Network super-slapstick – Netflix and Amazon are opening up new opportunities by broadening the creative spectrum to different genres.”

For Michel, “If you look at what Amazon is doing in their kids [live-action] drama lineup, it’s pretty amazing: High budget, single camera drama, a lot of depth. On animation, it has a broader spectrum, allows us to go for interesting niches.”

1980s’ deregulation, then rampant consolidation, created duopolies in many free-to-air markets in Europe and Latin America and neo-monopolies, as media concentration played out, in much of Europe’s pay-TV sector. OTT now circumvents those limitations, challenging established players to raise their game or loose potentially massive digital native audiences.

One major Mipcom 2015 narrative was companies tying down moving key product, or looking to raise the ante on production volume, shows’ scale, exports or drama acquisition.

Paybox Canal Plus announced it had re-upped on an exclusive ouput deal with Disney.Another Gallic giant, Orange, unveiled that it is funding Afrostream a pan-Africa SVOD service, showcasing African, African/American and African/Caribbean series and films.

Headed by Marcos Santana, Telemundo Internacional was involved in two of the landmark Latin American deals of Mipcom, inking worldwide distribution rights to HBO Latin America Originals outside the Americas and to fiction shows and formats from Chile’s top free-to-air net Mega, which is driving hard into drama production.

“Today the market can absorb the volume of drama being produced because there is a such a wide range of platforms – streaming services, pay TV channels, OTT and DTT channels  — that have big acquisition needs and have created a lucrative niche market for local series, said Pascal Breton, the boss of Paris-based Federation Entertainment.

Euro content giant Zodiak Rights has been successful with both local shows shot in foreign language like “The Returned” and “Braquo” and big-budget English-language series such as “Versailles.”  But Zodiak France CEO Gaspard de Chavagnac said that sales revenues are two to three times higher for “Versailles” than “The Returned.” “Versailles” sales currently account for approximately 25% of French TV programs’ exports over the last two years, per De Chavagnac.

But challenges remain. The big battle in premium TV  looks set to be fought over talent, the finite number of show-runners able to shepherd true-blue premium TV drama.

“There’s a talent pool and ultimately it’s a rather limited one,” Nuñez said.

International partnerships, which bring more money to the table, broaden distribution outlets, and allow partners crucially to access more talent – look to become increasingly frequent. Thye already exist. U.K.’s Sky Atlantic and France’s Canal Plus commissioned “The Last Panthers”; Mark Gordon confirmed he was co-producing “Darkness Falls,” a procedural, with German broadcast network ProSiebenSat1.

The keynote of Mipcom 2015 was, however, one of excitement. Said Nuñez: “I remember the couple of years during which commercial television networks launched in Europe and the revolution that took place, starting this whole demand for U.S. content. This kind of appears to be another version of that.”

An exceptional market, Mipcom took place in exceptional circumstances. This year’s Mipcom will also be remembered for the tragic context in which it opened, following an unprecedented storm that killed 20 people in Cannes and surrounding regions, on top of severely damaging properties.

Reed Midem, which weathered the crisis with honors, had to cancel its opening night red carpet and relocate the opening party from the storm-hit Martinez Hotel to the Carlton.  A Reed Midem rep said the Martinez and Carlton, who are traditionally known as major rival institutions, joined forces for the first time to make the party happen. With its colorful, lavish Turkish decor, the opening party at the Carlton turned out to one of Mipcom’s most attended, liveliest parties.

Leo Barraclough contributed to this article