MIPCOM 2012: More Big Stars Join the Suits on the Croisette
The convention attracts bigger hype with celebrity attendees including Kevin Spacey, Keri Russell and Harvey Weinstein.
The suits are no longer the stars.
Taking a leaf from that other event on the Croisette, the Cannes Film Festival, MIPCOM this week is rolling out its own red carpet and studding its once staid television market with a galaxy of marquee stars, showbiz movers and shakers and gala screenings.
The star power on display and the level of business discourse is now higher than ever at the semi-annual trade show. Among the big names and events: the world premiere of Fox's upcoming drama series The Americans, with stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys in tow; film auteur Jane Campion on hand to talk up her first-ever series for the BBC; NCIS exec producer Gary Glasberg conducting a master class on his venerable hit series; movie mogul Harvey Weinstein holding forth in a keynote address on his new TV shingle; and sit-downs with the likes of Kevin Spacey and Nigella Lawson.
STORY: MIPCOM 2012: Harvey Weinstein and Michael Flatley Launch World Dance Awards
In short, what used to be a place mainly for schleppers with briefcases is now aiming to be a mecca for marketing mavens who are trying to come up with novel ways of positioning their products as well as for thought provocateurs, who see the event as a place to broader-cast their vision.
Foremost is the money at stake in the global TV business and the need to break through the clutter and grab the attention for this or that piece of content. Audience fragmentation and the proliferation of content now mean that the need to stand out is ever more imperative if a show is to travel beyond its own borders -- and mint the moolah.
"Talent on hand definitely helps," Fox TV International president Marion Edwards says. "It creates buzz and excitement. Getting press never hurts."
Says another longtime MIPCOM-goer: "There are a lot of shows chasing a limited number of slots, or at least slots that attract a respectable number of eyeballs. Unless you get a berth on such a time period, your license fee will be minuscule. So the more you can do to hype your show, the better your chance that a broadcaster will bite."
Not to mention that the obsession with celebrity culture is now not just an American thing but a worldwide phenomenon, which means almost any tidbit related to stars seems to get media attention.
The good news for the TV biz: more and more A-list talent from the film world are making the transition over to TV, where they're finding a warm reception.
Says Campion: "Being here makes our drama (Top of the Lake for the BBC and Sundance Channel) stand way above, as it were. We're like farmers who come to town with their apples and pears -- only ours are more polished."
An old hand at the film festival circuit, this is Campion's first MIPCOM.
The trend toward star-studding the Croisette accelerated two years ago. That's when Lionsgate, the distributor behind AMC's Mad Men, escorted its leads Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss around the French Riviera resort with the result that deals with foreign broadcasters were clenched practically overnight and junket reporters bagged interviews with the stars ahead of launch in various European territories.
Similarly, the folks behind The Walking Dead shepherded that same year not only the writer, the producer and the stars of the upcoming series but unleashed costumed zombies along the Croisette to heighten awareness of the show.
Apparently, the stunt paid off. Walking Dead launched day-and-ate around the world on Fox International Channels and this week, producer Gale Anne Hurd and actress Sarah Wayne Callies are back in town to unveil season three.
"What can I say? The press is attracted to big stars," German producer and head of Beta Film Jan Moito tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It makes promotional sense to have top names in our booth. MIPCOM is in fact increasingly a marketing and PR platform."
At Beta's annual lunch Tuesday, David Sutcliffe (Private Practice) and Stefanie von Pfetten (NCIS) were on hand to tub-thump for Cracked, a Canadian crime series that Beta is selling, as was Amber Marshall of Heartland, a family entertainment series set on a horse ranch.
Some stars claim they actually enjoy the hoopla.
"I actually find it interesting to be here, talk to buyers and find out what their viewers want to watch, what they like," Lawson tells THR. "The world has changed: We're more linked now, and I have shows that I want to travel." In town for the day to promote her latest cooking show for the BBC, Nigellisima, Lawson was holed up in a hotel suite near the Palais doing back-to-back interviews. (The new show has not yet been licensed in the States.)
Canadian thesps also made a point of being "on."
"A lot of people don't like to do the publicity part," von Pfetten says. "I've been working for 15 years to try to get a TV show like this. So to be here, actually helping promote Cracked, is something I've dreamed about for a long time.
"I was expecting it to be more nerve-wracking. I'm pretty relaxed," she adds. "It's like seeing family when you walk into a room, and you're with other Canadians, so it feels good."
For Erica Durance (Smallville), doing a Cannes junket for Saving Hope with co-star Michael Shanks is timely after NBC just took the Canadian medical drama off its schedule.
That's key because, despite the NBC cancellation, Canadian broadcaster CTV already has given the second season a green light. So the Saving Hope producers need additional foreign sales to offset the modest license fee NBC put up for the Canadian drama.
(Good news from the Canuck contingent's perspective: Because Canada is the spotlight country at this MIPCOM, taxpayers in the Great White North actually are footing the bill for the stars' attendance.)
Another subtext to this shift in strategy by the Reed Midem organizers of MIPCOM has to do with the transformation of the trade show business itself.
No longer are these exhibition extravaganzas primarily buying-and-selling events, except perhaps for the smaller companies that rarely field talent internationally. (The big guys do their deals year-round and often have hubs around the world where face time with customers is routine.)
Thus, to keep their traditional clientele coming and their interest level high, the organizers of the MIP (April) and MIPCOM (October) shows have placed increasing importance on attracting movers and shakers from all parts of showbiz. The Cannes and Toronto fests might be a place where bigwigs party, but MIP and MIPCOM are where they come to share their views onstage and in one-on-ones.
Thus, everyone from the aforementioned Weinstein to Warner Bros. TV topper Bruce Rosenblum to Google's global content head Robert Kyncl to reality kingpin Mark Burnett have had their moment in the spotlight this year. (The digital glitterati from Hulu and Google seemed to have the biggest audiences of avid fans.)
"It's like being at a TED conference," one of the attendees at Jason Kilar's talk tells THR.
Leaving aside the thought provocateurs, not everyone thinks the practice of herding the stars around TV markets has a direct payoff.
"A direct correlation with licensing deals? That would be hard to make," Moito says.
And, though no one wanted to be quoted, several independent distributors said the effort was "too time-consuming and energy-sapping" except probably for the larger companies that have enough staff to cater to the actors' needs.
Some, at least this go-round, feel they don't really need the extra hype.
"We've got Bond -- the 50th anni in fact," says MGM's TV head Roma Khanna. "Yes, it would be great to have Daniel Craig here, but he's working. And thankfully the films are so iconic they sell themselves."
Etan Vlessing and Scott Roxborough contributed to this report.