MIPTV ends on upbeat note for TV biz

Consensus is recovery, slow but steady, has begun

CANNES -- The big deals were missing, the parties low-key and you could always find a free table at the Carlton Hotel. "Quiet" and "cautious" were the words most used to describe the global television market as Cannes confab MIPTV wrapped up Thursday. But after the system shock of the recession, which battered broadcasters from London to Laos, there were signs this MIP that the international TV biz is bouncing back.

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"Last year it was dead, there was no real business. This time we are actually closing deals. It's nice to see people singing paper again," said Robert Kennedy, evp of non-fiction programming at Fireworks International, whose hot sellers include doc-series "Wildlife Rescue" and the new CW reality show "Fly Girls."

Attendance was flat on 2009, a MIPTV many considered the worst in a decade. Just 11,500 made the MIP trip this year. But some 4,000 buyers from 106 countries were among them, a slight uptick.

But the consensus was the crisis cleared MIP of many of the wannabes, leaving only the core group of companies with programming budgets to spend and real product to sell.

"All the people we need to talk to are here," said CBS Studios International president Armando Nunez, who said sales for the studio kept climbing, even through the crisis, thanks to seemingly unstoppable global franchises such as "CSI" and "NCIS."

The Eye network came to MIP with two strong new contenders for global domination -- "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "The Good Wife." For these, and the other hot studio titles here, the question was less if they would sell but how rights would be split up between traditional broadcasters, sell-through retailers such as iTunes and various on-demand services.

"We don't want rights to lie dormant, we need to monetize them on all platforms but at the same time we don't want to cannibalize the traditional free-to-air window," Nunez said. "We still need the big broadcasters. They are the ones that establish the franchise. How is a viewer in France going to even know about a new show if there isn't a big local broadcaster to tell them about it?"

While Studio fare continues to dominate primetime slots in most major territories, some buyers suggested this MIP might mark the beginning of a return to local fare. "Desperate Housewives," "CSI," "House" and other international juggernauts are getting long in the tooth, with ratings in some markets are starting to flag.

"The Studio shows are still the benchmark and we have to have them but local production is starting to come back," said Dirk Schweitzer head of acquisitions for RTL Television. "After a decade of U.S. series beating everything else, the pendulum may have started to swing the other way."

Indeed, RTL this season renewed three of its home-grown primetime series. Last year, none of its new German shows got picked up. In other territories -- Russia, Turkey or China for example -- local production is already champ.

One of the more intriguing deals this MIP was between China's CCTV and Mexican giant Televisa who are joining forces to co-produce and distribute a telenovela for the world market. The subtext of the agreement is with access to more than 2 billion people in their home markets -- the Chinese- and Spanish-speaking territories worldwide -- these two global players can go it alone and not care about viewers in North America or Europe.

Independent producers and distributors are also starting to collaborate on a global basis to get projects financed outside the studio system. Whether its pay-channel Starz teaming with Germany's Tandem and Brit-based Scott Free on big-budget limited series "The Pillars of the Earth" and "World Without End" or Canada's E1 Entertainment linking up with Syfy and Tele Munchen Group to bankroll new Stephen King-created mystery series "Haven."

"A lot of people are now trying to do what we're doing," said Tandem co-head Rola Bauer, commenting on the increasing trend towards cross-border financing of high-end drama. "I'm not so sure they will succeed."

Questions over the future corporate make-up of market heavyweights MGM and Lionsgate insured plenty of industry chatter this MIP. But both companies insisted it was business as usual, with buyers more interested in rights for the new James Bond or the upcoming season of "Mad Men" than in who will own what in six months' time.

"We've had nothing but support from our clients around the world," said MGM's world TV boss Gary Marenzi. "People want MGM to succeed."

The value of rights libraries have shrunk from highs a few years back and global TV advertising is at best sluggish. But Marenzi's optimism was shared by most MIP attendees. The worst is over, they say and the recovery -- slow but steady -- has begun.

"There is still so much growth potential in the international markets," Marenzi said, pointing to the digital terrestrial television boom in France and Italy and still-maturing territories such as Russia, China and Brazil. "Things have gotten harder. It's more complicated. But the future is bright."
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