Cold front, economy rains on Croisette parade

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CANNES -- As the weather turns wet and frosty on the Croisette, it's not just the shivering sales executives having trouble warming up at MIPTV.

A mix of economic uncertainty, post-WGA strike malaise and travel mishaps have conspired to take the zip out of the five-day program sales bazaar.

Snowy weather on Monday in London and Paris led to the cancellation of hundreds of flights and many execs were forced to wait it out or jump on trains to get them to the Cote d'Azur. Some top-tier folks even hired private jets to avoid canceling too many meetings.

The delays had an effect on the floor traffic at the Palais, which lacked the buzz and bustle of previous years.

"It's starting to pick up now, but Monday was slow as everyone was trying to get here with planes, trains and automobiles from London and Paris," RHI president of production and distribution Joel Denton said.

U.S. studio executives were upbeat but most said that they would prefer to wait until after the market to assess the week's business. Privately, however, they admitted that things have gotten off to a quiet start.

One U.S. exec described his company's booth as "the cave" as buyer presence thinned out Tuesday.

But others said that it was business as usual.

"All of our appointments are going ahead as planned and we are having discussions with buyers about a range of topics from VOD access to expectations for the upcoming L.A. Screenings," one upbeat seller said.

Clearly missing at this MIP are the deal clearances announcements from sellers. The usual forest of news releases also was thin.

While "French" and "slow" often are synonymous terms, for the Gallic market, MIP has been especially quiet. Politics -- and not the snow falling in Paris -- has been keeping the major networks mum and creating an underlying tension at the market.

Leading French network TF1 has been quiet, with no news released at MIP thus far.

Typically omnipresent pubcaster France Televisions (FTV) has been almost MIA with no news events or announcements planned for the event. FTV president Patrick de Carolis made an appearance on the Riviera, but he has been tight-lipped with regards to the recent uproar over Nicolas Sarkozy's plans to make the nation's public TV completely ad free.

Another unknown hanging over MIP as ominous as the rain clouds that drove sun bathers off the Riveria beaches Tuesday is the threat of a worldwide economic slowdown.

"So far we haven't noticed any ill effects," Denton said. "But in the past you could see it happen very quickly, where advertisers pulled out and suddenly the big free-TV channels weren't buying anymore."

Then there's the summer's potential actors strike in the U.S. With the aftereffects of the writers walkout only starting to be felt abroad, most MIP attendees agreed that another strike so soon would be "catastrophic."

But while worries kept things quiet, the one sure-fire measure of MIP business -- restaurant bookings -- provided a different picture. By noon Tuesday it was nearly impossible to find an empty table at restaurants near the Palais. International TV execs might be less than bullish about the biz, but they still are booking lunches.

Steve Brennan and Rebecca Leffler contributed to this report.
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