Programming, platforms, market rebounds fuel MIPTV

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Here's the pitch: A vagabond couple and their kids kill two strangers in a road accident. They then move into the dead couple's new house and assume their identities. In doing so, they also play an important part in revitalizing a major international TV market -- which they then attend in person to party with the world's press on the French Riviera. OK, that last bit about Cannes isn't really part of the TV plot. But it is most definitely the real-life scenario as it plays out for MIPTV.

The series is FX's "The Riches," one of a plethora of midseason U.S. dramas and comedies that international buyers are keen to view at MIPTV in Cannes this year. In fact, TV program buyers and sellers are saying that with so many new shows hitting the U.S. networks midseason these days -- and so much product launching on a year-round basis stateside -- buyers have more motivation than ever to attend MIP.

The fact that the two British stars of "Riches," Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard, will be in Cannes to do press is an added bonus, says Marion Edwards, president, international television, 20th Century Fox Television Distribution, who will be at MIP to show the series along with a slew of other new product. "One of the single biggest changes that has occurred is that the U.S. cable networks are in the business of original drama and comedy, and they launch on a different schedule to the U.S. networks," she says. "So, we end up with product that is being provided year-round. The broadcast networks, too, have bought into year-round scheduling."

That's good news for MIP, which until recent years was more of an off-season venue for nonprimetime product. It's also fair to say that the confab has been impacted by its proximity to the Los Angeles Screenings in May, when the new season's network shows are first rolled out for international TV buyers. The screenings invariably offer a cornucopia of fresh programming compared to what's available at MIP.

"For years, we talked about the negatives (of MIP) because of the timing of the market -- literally just one month later, you have the (Los Angeles) Screenings, and you are also in the middle of pilot season, and you don't know what's going forward," explains Armando Nunez Jr., president of CBS Paramount International Television. "But I think the fact of the matter today is that with the year-round process, MIP plays an important role. Anything that brings the majority of our buyers into one place for a significant period of time is good."

Nunez and his team will have some very immediate projects to discuss with clients, including a pending unnamed project with David Duchovny and CBS' new midseason comedy "Rules of Engagement."

One prolific buyer of top U.S. product is Ireland's Channel 6 founder and director of programming Michael Murphy. "I saw 'The Riches,' the pilot, at the Los Angeles Screenings last year," he says.

"I can see a lot more episodes at MIP now and be in a much better position to make decisions."

Of course, he and other buyers also will have access to early ratings data, as well as marketing and scheduling plans for the midseason offerings. That was rarely the case at MIP in the past. "With so many cancellations on the U.S. networks since last year's Los Angeles Screenings, we will all have a keen eye as to what the midseason brings because people have so many holes in their schedules," Murphy says.

But the slew of vibrant new shows is just one shot in the arm for MIP this year. Indeed, a number of positive developments are encouraging a prevailing sense of premarket optimism: A rebounding German economy seems set to have a positive halo effect throughout the international TV business, the digital TV sector continues to draw new customers, and the demand for product from the mobile sector -- not to mention the continuing high quality of American programming being produced -- will combine to make this year's MIP a robust market.

Still, in the ever-changing world of international television, there always are some dark clouds looming on the horizon. Keith LeGoy, executive vp distribution, Sony Pictures Television International, points to a potential negative for MIP and indeed for other international TV markets: "Our overall business dynamic is changing. Shows are being launched on more of a year-round basis, so with the exception of the L.A. Screenings, there really isn't such an urgency to launch a show at a particular market."

While LeGoy admits he enjoys the opportunities MIP affords, he believes the event's fast-paced nature can work against it. "Everyone tends to be rushing around so much at MIPTV that sometimes the quality of the meetings can suffer," he says. "By the time someone has made it to the booth, sat down, had a cup of coffee or a glass of water, it's almost time for them to move on to their next meeting."

While that is certainly the case with the other big studios as well, some in the industry say that you simply can't discount the excitement that can build at a MIP or a MIPCOM or a NATPE booth during the rush of the market. "There's really a great buzz that can be created on the stand, and that's important," notes Belinda Menendez, president, NBC Universal International Television Distribution. "It's always great to have new product to pitch, so for us it's an important market.

One of the shows that is a real standout for us is 'Heroes,' which has already been sold extensively around the world and is very successful in each of its territories."

Adds Menendez: "Our clients need all the information (about marketing plans and early ratings) they can get these days about any new show, and we can provide them access to a lot of information at a market like MIP that we hope will be of value to them."

Just as important to the short-term success of markets like MIP is the fact that the industry in general is getting a boost from recovering markets, specifically Germany, where the economy is showing renewed signs of life. "One of the premises that we look closely at before going into any market is the market economy, and there seems to be a rebounding taking place now," Menendez says.

With some 4,000 films in his studio's library to sell in the international markets -- often to multiple networks and customers in a single market -- it's certain that MGM worldwide TV distribution president Jim Packer is keeping a watchful eye on global economic trends.

"Germany is strong and has finally gotten through all of the hiccups with all the bankruptcies, and it's now very healthy for us and a lot of companies," Packer says. "In addition, you have -- not just in Germany but in countries around the world -- digital conversion and new platforms. We have seen our business grow in many areas, particularly the U.K., which is as strong now as it has ever been. So yes, things are shaping up everywhere."

SPTI's LeGoy concurs: "Make no mistake that the U.K., France, Germany, Spain, Italy are still incredibly robust markets, but exceptional growth rates in Eastern Europe, (South) Korea and Latin America are a strong indication that the appetite for U.S. content is on a truly global scale."

MORE MIPTV COVERAGE
Positive signs: Midseason programming and rebounding markets fuel optimism
MIPTV A-list: Five titles likely to generate strong buzz at MIPTV
Going rate: Price ranges for U.S. TV product
Territory reports: TV biz from around the world
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