MIPTV buyers looking for affordable fare

Uncertain economic outlook also affecting viewer tastes

CANNES -- Emerging from a recession-battered global TV market, buyers and sellers will convene on the Riviera this week to talk co-production, formats and low-cost production at the TV sales market MIPTV.

Cooperation models that slice and dice costs are in, as buyers look for low-cost, high-volume -- yet still quality -- fare. From Cologne to Canberra, affordable financing is the name of the game.

"Of course distribution and licensing deals are still core to what happens at the market, but we are also seeing a need to develop much earlier stage conversations on formats, co-productions and financing," says Laurine Garaude, director of television for MIPTV parent Reed Midem.

Garaude points to innovations like the debut MIP Formats day Sunday -- which garnered more than 600 sign-ups when just 350 were predicted -- as an example of how MIPTV organizers are responding to changing times. The Producers' Forum, where co-production matchmaking and networking can propel projects onto more solid foundations, and the Digital Media summit, exploring online business models, are others.

"The mood is upbeat, and we are expecting a lot of productivity this year," Garaude added. "Last year, it was quite morose with people living through the recession, but MIPCOM saw quite a change and we are going into MIPTV with optimism."

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Despite her optimism, overall attendance numbers are virtually unchanged from where they were in a very tough 2009, with about 11,500 delegates registered to date. But registration for the weekend documentary and factual market MIPDOC was up 10% to 730, while overall buyer numbers were up 5% driven by representation from China, Russia and the Middle East.

When it comes to what buyers are looking for, the uncertain economic outlook across the continent continues to affect viewer tastes. Across Europe, the recovery has been sluggish, and despite rising stock markets from the second half of last year onwards, burgeoning national debt means that tough times are still to come. In markets such as Greece, Portugal and perhaps even the U.K., governments are staring down the barrel at austerity measures, fiscal tightening and the specter of rescue deals from the International Monetary Fund.

No surprise then that viewers want to turn on, tune in and forget the gloom.

"People want more uplifting television," says Remy Blumenfeld, director of formats at Britain's ITV Studios, who says that cruel, exploitative and judgmental television is out, and generous, warm and inclusive is in. "The last thing they want to watch when they get home is 'thank God it's not me' television when they've been wishing it wasn't them all day."

ITV Studios' format business has done good business in the past year, growing revenues 42% despite the financial hangover, driven by such formats such as "Four Weddings" and "Hell's Kitchen."

A year ago, ITV Studios had only a handful of proven formats to bring to market, but now it has 10 that are on air in one or more territories including forthcoming shows "Country House Kitchen," "Marco's Banquet" and "Coach Trip."

Pressure on budgets, however, means that buyers are looking for affordability and are exploring low-cost production centers as far afield as Argentina, Costa Rica and South Africa for their economics and production values as much as the golden glow of exotic sunshine.

For scripted sellers, the new game is all about expanding traditional distribution. Catherine Powell, senior vp program distribution at the Walt Disney Co., will be at the market promoting the studio's newly integrated distribution lineup for EMEA, which covers music, games and publishing deals as well as traditional video content.

"We have exciting plans for properties such as 'Toy Story,' 'Tinkerbell' and 'Tron' to discuss with our clients," she says.

Naturally, it wouldn't be Cannes without a smattering of Hollywood stardust to scatter over the Croisette.

William Shatner will be in town to promote his new science show "Weird or What," while Jean-Claude Van Damme will be launching a look back at his martial arts career. "The Wire" star Idris Elba will be promoting "Luther," his new BBC crime drama, and Jason Priestley will host the fifth International Digital Emmy awards Monday to a VIP audience and will be promoting his new show "Call Me Fitz."
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