Hollywood majors poised to dominate MIPCOM

'Nikita,' 'Hawaii Five-O' among show vying for global buyers

Hollywood is lugging an outsized, varied and star-studded cache of content to the Croisette next week -- and hoping to take advantage of improved market conditions abroad to boost its bottom line back home.

Whether it's dramas like Warner Bros.' sexy "Nikita," CBS Studios' hip revamp of "Hawaii Five-O," NBC Universal's action-packed "The Event" or Fox's "Avatar"-ish epic "Terra Nova," buyers from around the globe will focus on American series at what is the premier international market for small-screen programs. However much slicker and salable foreign shows have become (indeed, they've been compellingly competitive in the past decade), Hollywood fare is still the most ubiquitously sought-after entertainment around the world. Twenty-four new broadcast series will be vying for buyer attention on the Croisette.

Among the stars gracing new fall shows are Jimmy Smits, William Shatner, Jon Voight, Tom Selleck and Forest Whitaker. "Mad Men's" Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss, Sundance founder Robert Redford, Kiss' Gene Simmons and producer Gale Anne Hurd are among those who will be on hand to lend glamor or gravitas to the proceedings.

Now in its 26th year, MIPCOM is bracing for a record-breaking 12,500 participants from 100 countries, putting on a potpourri of panels, keynotes and photo ops, and, if the stars align, providing a backdrop of balmy fall weather.

As with the recession-resistant movie business, television has not suffered nearly so much as other industries on a global basis.

"Things are picking up, and in general they didn't get as bad as they might have and they started getting better more quickly than we thought they would," says Fox International TV president Marion Edwards, whose shows "Glee" and "Modern Family" were breakouts this past season stateside and are just now coming onstream abroad. Her team will be fielding a procedural titled "Breakout Kings" from the folks behind "Prison Break," as well as the evocatively titled but still at script stage, "Terra Nova." Warners, the No. 1 supplier of series to the five U.S. broadcast nets, carries a bulging suitcase led by "Nikita" and the equally hot "Undercovers," as well as several summer hits on the conglomerate's cable outlets -- "Pretty Little Liars" and "Rizzoli & Isles."

"We've ridden out the recession fairly well and managed year-over-year increases in pricing. We think we have new product that will keep those increases sustainable," says Warner Bros. International TV president Jeffrey Schlesinger.

While straight-ahead commercial fare from the U.S. broadcast nets are the big winners abroad, Schlesinger says that U.S. cable shows are becoming surprisingly competitive. The less quirky translate more easily into dollars, but even offbeat subject matter (think "Breaking Bad") or period pieces (like HBO's "Boardwalk Empire") are finding outlets beyond English-langauge territories.

Still, it is the well-constructed, fast-paced, star-driven Yank shows that are the creme de la creme when it comes to what broadcasters want to buy outside their own locally produced efforts. CBS' "CSI" remains a juggernaut abroad, as does its "NCIS" franchise, Warners' "The Mentalist," Universal's "House" and Fox's "The Simpsons." At trade shows the focus is inevitably on the latest thing, but it's the mainstays that mint the most coin.

Although official figures are fiercely guarded, the Hollywood majors are raking in more than $8 billion a year from their series and movie sales to foreign TV outlets, both pay and free to air. Add to that the fact that they are now in the nonscripted business, the localized production business, and the round-the-clock channels business, and the revenue accruing to these companies from foreign TV activities nudges the $10 billion a year mark.

Not that it's getting any easier. Pressure on the international guys is greater because DVD sales have slipped as the costs of production has risen. There's more content than ever chasing outlets, and foreign TV increasingly mirrors the complications of the stateside industry.

"The international marketplace is starting to see what we face here in the U.S. -- more fractionalized, targeted audiences," says Jon Feltheimer, co-chairman and CEO of Lionsgate, who will receive this year's Personality of the Year award.

One reason for his MIPCOM award: Lionsgate combines indie chutzpah with major studio smarts, purchasing other companies to grow its portfolio and striking deals with key talent. Lionsgate will be licensing its first primetime broadcast comedy ("Running Wilde") and a reality series titled "Supermodel Me," which Lionsgate International TV topper Peter Iacono describes as "America's Next Top Model" meets "Fear Factor."

CBS Studios International is also high on its prospects, having come off what the unit's president, Armando Nunez, calls "a particularly good development season." He points to the "Hawaii Five-O" remake, as well as to "Blue Bloods" and "The Defenders." It helps his cause, he points out, that CBS has programmed its own schedule from a position of "aggressive stability," meaning that because so many holdovers are still performing well, there was no need to pick up anything other than strong contenders.

At NBC Universal too, international TV president Belinda Menendez believes the company is bringing a winning hand to the sales bazaar -- so much that it's fielding exec producer Steve Stark to promote what the unit hopes is an ace: The high-octane actioner "The Event."

"With '24' and 'Lost' having ended their runs, this conspiracy thriller could inherit that mantle," she says.

Meanwhile at Disney, international chief Ben Pyne is upbeat about "the breadth of the portfolio," including a spinoff of "Criminal Minds" and Shonda Rhimes' midseason entry "Off the Map," which he's convinced will strike a chord with overseas networks.

This will be the first trade show in which Disney-owned Marvel will be under the same beachfront tent as the Mouse House mavens. "Marvel brings some incredible franchises, and we'll be working to coordinate and synergize with them," Pyne says.

On the indie front, too, there is reason to be enthusiastic, especially for those in the nonscripted arena. Shine International president Chris Grant says that successful reality shows spawn "entire businesses around them," as in countless ancillary opportunities for merchandising, events, spinoffs and the like. Shine's "Masterchef" is "cooking with gas" abroad, per Grant, as is "Gotta Dance" and "Say Yes to the Dress."

"What we try to do at Shine is create transformative TV -- shows that everyone, wherever they live, can easily relate to."

Whatever the level of business MIPCOM, the Hollywood heavyweights continue to set the pace. Several recent moves abroad could herald trends:

-- Warners snapped up a controlling stake in reality producer Shed Media in the U.K. and clinched a deal with John de Mol's Dutch-based Talpa -- signs of major plans to compete in an arena heretofore dominated by conglomerates like Fremantle and Endemol.

-- CBS Studios is newly aggressive on the channels front, having launched nichers in the U.K. with Chello, in India with Reliance and in Australia with the Ten Network. Nunez is particularly bullish on India, where more folks speak English than in the U.S.

-- Disney just unveiled ABC-on-Demand in the U.K. with partner BT Vision, carving another window for its content in that market. There are half a dozen similar conversations going on in other countries.

In other words, while sales of series -- especially scripted dramas -- remain the bread and butter of the Hollywood conglomerates, any player worth its salt is trying to fire on multiple cylinders: nonscripted formats, international channels, localized production and digital opps and apps.

As one veteran MIPCOM attendee put it: "Five years from now, content will be even more ubiquitous, windowed ever more narrowly and available on many more devices. That $10 billion figure for what the business is worth to Americans will balloon, and other countries are going to see some moolah, too."
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