Murdoch regales with tough tales

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CANNES -- Rupert Murdoch's daughter, Elisabeth Murdoch, regaled MIPTV delegates Monday with tales of her experiences as a "broke acquisitions executive" and "unknown producer" struggling to get meetings when she started out in the business.

Delivering the first-day keynote, the chief executive of Shine and former general manager of Brit satcaster BSkyB, said she had started out "firmly at the bottom rung of the MIP ladder" and had been unable to persuade studio execs to take meetings 15 years ago when she began attending the market.

In a speech calling for companies and broadcasters to embrace and nurture creativity, Murdoch said that strong creatives would be able to dictate their own terms with networks and said US indies should fight to keep hold of their international distrubution rights. She also said that Shine, which recently acquired global format producer Reveille and British indies Kudos, Princess and Firefly, was "complete in terms of acquisitions" and would now focus on diversifying into areas such as advertiser-funded programming.

But it was Murdoch's account of her early days as an acquisitions exec that had audiences captivated. The elder daughter of News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch proved such a draw that the queue to get in trailed down three floors at the Palais. Organizers had earlier advised delegates to turn up half an hour before the speech was due to kick off if they wanted to be sure of securing a seat.

As a buyer for the FX channel in the early nineties, Murdoch said she had virtually no acquisitions budget and spent time wandering the lower reaches of the Palais convention hall seeking out foreign formats.

"Ultimately it seemed that I was always being chatted up by quite elderly Teutonic broadcast executives who could tell how green I was by the titles on the one-sheets that I was clasping."

The young executive learned the ropes, she told the SRO hall, "through endless meals at the Majestic and drinks at the Carlton, while dreaming of one day staying in a hotel that was anywhere near the Croisette."

It was not until she took over as BSkyB's content head that she secured the coveted balcony meetings with "actual Hollywood studio executives."

But when she began her own production venture, Shine, in 2001, it was back to the "bottom rung of the ladder," this time as a struggling indie producer.

"It was back to anonymity faster than you could say Martinez," she said. "I am not sure which was worse -- the early days as a broke acquisitions executive or as an unknown producer peddling my wares. But I do know this -- I have come much further and much faster than I otherwise would have thanks to the many years and many adventures spent in this building."

Judging by an audience that included Sony Pictures Television International president Michael Grindon, Warner U.K. president Josh Berger and 20th Century Fox TV distribution president Mark Kaner, Murdoch should have much less trouble getting those studio meetings now than when she was an industry ingenue. Sony holds a minority investment stake in Shine and distributes some of its fare.

But she reserved some sharp words for the overarching studio model, which she said could not act nimbly to seize opportunities. Pointing to the increased power and global presence of U.K. indies after the government there changed the rules to allow them to hold onto international distribution rights she predicted similar changes in the U.S.

"This profound change in the U.K. has been a windfall for our industry and off the back of the international formats we all know and love -- it has shown producers around the world the value of their creativity.

"I believe this same realization is coming home to roost in the US. Format creators in the US have until now been forced to give their international formats to the network-aligned studio."

"Although the market forces are different, the prevailing truth is similar to that of the U.K."
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