MIP buyers waiting for prices to fall

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This year's MIPTV confab is shaping up to be less "Show me the money" and more "Where is the money?"

Feeling the pain of double-digit drops in advertising revenue, European broadcasters are squeezing their budgets until they scream. The U.K.'s BBC wants to lop $580 million off its expense column, Germany's ProSiebenSat.1 is targeting $125 million in cuts, and France's TF1 is chopping $75 million.

Bidding adieu to those fat checkbooks, buyers will have to be a lot more creative heading into those Cannes meetings, which begin Monday.

"I think we are going to have to steal the programs," said Jeff Ford, head of acquisitions at U.K. commercial network Five. "We're going to go into the studio meetings and then walk out with the DVDs, and I think that's how we are going to get shows on air."

Ford is joking, but the days of brinkmanship bidding and eye-watering buyout prices definitely are over. Hardest hit have been channels in the U.K., Spain and Eastern Europe, where local economies are reeling. But the recession is global, and no one has been spared.

RTL Group CEO Gerhard Zeiler forecasts a double-digit revenue decline for the German TV industry this year, after near-record results in 2008, and even "crisis-proof" Scandinavia is feeling the pinch.

This isn't all bad news, especially for the studios. Foreign broadcasters tend to buy local when times are good, but recessions often boost acquisitions, particularly those of high-quality, ready-out-of-the-box dramas.

"Acquisition is really very cost-effective," said Daniela Bugliani, acquisition and co-production manager at Italy's Mediaset. "You can buy more, and at a very high quality."

In one of the biggest recent deals, RTL outbid ProSieben to sign a multiyear agreement with Warner Bros. International Television that gives RTL German rights to more than 200 films and TV series.

Few expect many big buys to come out of MIPTV this year. Most execs will use the market as a fact-finding mission to check out new shows, waiting for the L.A. Screenings in May to get down to business. By then, if the economy continues to slide, the market could be very different.

Mimi Turner in London contributed to this report.
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