Nonfiction still in demand at MIPDOC

Sellers say prices are stable, eye new opportunities

CANNES -- The global economic meltdown may have an upside, at least for sellers hawking their wares at this year's MIPDOC, the two-day market for factual programming that wrapped Sunday in Cannes ahead of MIPTV.

While channels worldwide are tightening their budget belts, nonfiction continues to move.

"We haven't seen any downturn -- at least not yet," said Silke Spahr, managing director at German United Distributors, whose MIPDOC lineup includes tongue-in-cheek doc "Where Is the Wall," on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. "Some documentary slots have disappeared or been taken over by nonfiction formats, but the prices are stable."

Discovery Enterprises International senior vp Caleb Weinstein actually sees an opportunity in the crisis as broadcasters look for alternatives to costly in-house production.

"We are looking to push Discovery programs into entertainment slots or drama slots -- places they might not have been before," Weinstein said. "That's our biggest challenge at the moment, and broadcasters are open to that now."

Weinstein points to Discovery titles like horse-racing series "Jockeys" or long-running reality hit "American Chopper" as examples of crossover factual fare that can take the place of pricey homemade productions on international schedules.

Adapting established formats can be another cost-effective way of delivering quality on a budget, and Scandi sales group Nordisk signed a series of deals with U.S. production companies -- including Renegade and Reveille -- for remake rights to successful reality and show formats such as home-improvement revenge format "Construction Nightmares" and singles show "Don't Date Him Girl."

"Broadcasters worldwide are cutting back on their production budgets and acquiring more finished programming, so that will have an impact on the format business; it is very hard to sell a format these days based on an idea and a trailer," Nordisk Film TV international director Karoline Spodsberg said. "But established formats that can show real ratings success in one or several territories are very appealing to channels in these risk-aversive times."

But, warned Jens Richter of German sales giant SevenOne International, no one genre -- formats or reality, documentaries or lifestyle programming -- will prove a magic bullet.

"Things are bad all over, and everyone has to cut costs, but the solutions will vary from channel to channel and territory," Richter said. "The secret is to have a large catalog of varied, high-quality programming so you can offer custom-made solutions."
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