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Mipcom Takeaways: Disney’s New Global Service, Second Wave COVID-19 Headaches & Inventive Marketing

Adult Material
Banijay Rights

Mipcom is the biggest international TV get-together of the year, but the 2020 event was a different beast due to COVID-19. While there were hopes the Cannes affair could take place in person this October, organizer Reed Midem revealed in September that the market would go virtual — and judging by the fast-rising COVID-19 count in France and toughening restrictions, that was probably a wise idea. Here are takeaways from an extraordinary year.

New Market Leaders

A decade ago, Mipcom’s main trade was Hollywood majors talking up rookie fall hits to broadcasters and pay TV worldwide. No more. As the studios hold back ever more of their flagship shows for their own OTT platforms, two new categories of market drivers have emerged: Super Indies — to use Ampere Analysis’ coinage — such as Banijay, Fremantle, BBC Studios, ITV and Beta Film; and global streamers, more of whom are ever more active. Increasingly, too, trading is done between both. As such, two of Mipcom 2020’s biggest deal unveils were HBO Max acquisitions, of Studiocanal’s “Possessions,” as revealed by Variety, and Banijay Rights’ “Adult Material.” Increased platform buys that snatch up major international rights, however, mean that “fewer and fewer big shows seem to be hitting the market,” laments one Spanish acquisitions exec.

COVID-19 Dominates Dealing, Discussions

One obvious impact: Mipcom didn’t take place on-site, officially at least (see below). Another: COVID-19 has also opened up “huge holes and open slots on free-to-air channels and platforms,” Beta Film managing director Moritz von Kruedener recognized at a Mipcom Warm Up panel entitled ‘New World, New Contents.’ Free-to-air acquisition budgets have gone down dramatically, however, he also noted. “U.S. and many international local productions have been halted. So that creates new sales opportunities for finished shows from other countries,” says one Spanish acquisition and sales executive.

‘Disney Star’ on the Rise? 

One key player that’s believed to be chatting up international distributors is Disney Star, the Mouse House’s new streaming service. Disney CEO Bob Chapek first hinted at the international-focused platform during the company’s August earnings calls, where he highlighted an “international direct-to-consumer general entertainment offering under the Star brand in calendar year 2021.” While it was once believed Hulu would expand outside the U.S., Disney appears to be pushing Star as its global entertainment offering instead, alongside Disney Plus. Interestingly, although the company said the bulk of its content would be in-house, distribution sources tell Variety they’re discussing deals with Disney Star, meaning there could be some degree of licensed content. “They’re looking at everything, just like everybody else,” said one senior executive.

Burgeoning U.S. Broadcaster Appetite for Foreign Shows

Ramped-up acquisitions of international drama by U.S. broadcasters and platforms have been a mainstay since March but Mipcom has thrown this voracious appetite for content in sharp relief, several distributors tell Variety. Banijay Rights boss Cathy Payne highlights that while six-month-old streamer HBO Max grabbed headlines with pick-ups of Banijay’s “Adult Material” and Studiocanal’s “Possessions,” other streamers such as Peacock and Amazon’s AVOD service IMDb TV are also very much in the mix for big content buys. “[IMDb TV] doesn’t want to be defined as the AVOD arm of Amazon,” says Payne. “Their plan is to really build that service to commission programming and look for premium product, and they’re very active in that area and assessing opportunities.” Sources tell Variety the U.S. platform is believed to be rebranding as ITV.

Second-Wave COVID-19 Headaches

Mipcom proved a sounding board for growing concern about whether production restarts or new shoots can now make it past the finish line. Showrunners were already tightening production over the summer. Niccolo Ammaniti’s Fremantle-sold “Anna” went down from eight to six episodes on Sky, which, he told Variety, made for a better show. In France, where the government has imposed a 9 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew for Paris and eight cities for at least six weeks, producers are hoping film and TV crews will obtain a special waiver, but Michel Gomez at Mission Cinema, a body in charge of coordinating shoots in Paris, said that filming, and especially exterior shoots, will likely be subjected to curfew rules.

Black Lives Matter But On-Screen Representation Still Lacking

Canneseries’ main competition titles, all European, featured no Black protagonists: Very few shows of that kind were presented, Albin Levi, Canneseries artistic director, told Variety. The push is on to grow the submissions, however. Virginia Mouseler, head of audience analysis company The Wit, told an online audience at her Fresh TV Fiction showcase that a recent show that inspired her was BBC One-HBO comedy drama “I May Destroy You,” starring Michaela Coel as a Black Twitter star turned novelist surviving the trauma of rape. Meanwhile, BritBox, a BBC and ITV-backed streamer, is developing “Southwark,” an ambitious original drama about Black Tudors living in 17th-century London.

Did ‘Mipcom Online Plus’ Make Any Sense At All?

Why should sales executives slog through back-to-back Zoom meetings over three days with customers they can Zoom any day of the year? “As an important date in the industry calendar, Mipcom sets the frame for meetings, screenings and events, and helps everyone to focus,” says Beta Film head of communication Dorothee Stoewahse. Media coverage of an online event can create buzz on specific titles, she adds. But online dealing still doesn’t give the sense of an overall market that attendance in person can create, the Spanish sales-acquisitions executive argues. Stoewahse agrees: “Mipcom Online Plus didn’t have the impact of Mipcom on location.”

At Federation Entertainment, which nabbed two top awards at Canneseries with “Red Light” and “Partisan,” Monica Levy, the SVP of co-productions and sales, says the company had “several deals cooking,” including in the U.S. where buyers reached out last evening after Canneseries prizes were unveiled. “It was like a regular market, even if we get the impression that it’s more spread out than usual.”

Mipcom On Site Was Canceled but Canneseries Still Brought Industry to Cannes

In spite of travel bans imposed in some countries and over at large companies, Canneseries managed to draw some key French and European executives and creatives who walked the pink carpet for the premiere of their shows. Among them was Swedish filmmaker Amir Chamdin who was on the ground when his show “Partisan” won Canneseries. “Canneseries was a treat; the crew, the organization and the atmosphere is unbeatable. Cannes is the place to be for modern TV drama,” said the helmer. Meanwhile, other guests, such as Cannes Film Festival president Pierre Lescure and prominent French producer Marco Cherqui, turned up for the opening ceremony where Canal Plus’ new star-studded show “La Flamme” screened in the prestigious auditorium of the Palais des Festivals. The opening gala was followed by a private cocktail event on the beach where high-profile guests were greeted by Cannes mayor David Lisnard, a driving force behind the fest.

Sellers Get Inventive with Online Marketing   

After several months of practicing Zoom-centric virtual markets, many distribution companies came up with creative ideas to make their programs stand out and entertain buyers. At Newen, for instance, the company gathered its distribution staff in a venue to recreate the vibe of a market. “It’s important that our clients see us in a market-like environment…Everyone is getting tired of meetings over Zoom or Teams so we need to reinvent ourselves,” said Rodolphe Buet, Newen’s distribution chief. Over at Beta, Tuesday’s Virtual Beta Brunch was reworked as a comedy, where scripts of hosts were rewritten by mysterious masked burglars who break into the Beta offices at night.

Federation’s Levy says the company ramped up viral marketing and created dedicated content to promote specific series to buyers before the market. “This strategy worked: Buyers were already familiar with our shows before the start of the market” she added.