Splendid views on the Croisette

Lots of deals, forward thinking

The global traffic in TV content has never been more intense, the pace never quicker and the pricing rarely as healthy.

Whether it was CBS Paramount's "Californication," NBC Universal's "Bionic Woman" or Warner Bros. TV's "Pushing Daisies," it seems that foreign program buyers just can't get enough of U.S. series. And most of the time, thanks in part to strong local currencies, they're paying through the nose for them.

Still, as key U.S. execs on the Riviera made a point of saying, the traffic is now clearly "back and forth across the Atlantic," in Leslie Moonves' words, and "multidirectional," as Ben Silverman puts it.

CBS Corp. CEO Moonves was feted by MIPCOM organizers for his pioneering efforts in opening the U.S. market to foreign program formats as well as for turning "CSI" into the epitome of a global franchise.

Silverman, who is co-chair of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, cut his teeth on the international programming scene, making his mark by spotting cutting-edge concepts and turning them into hits stateside. Silverman has just sourced his three latest format hopefuls — not from the usual British or Dutch markets but from unplumbed sources in Israel, Colombia and Australia.

As the 23rd MIPCOM trade show, which wraps Friday, has made abundantly clear, it's not enough to just buy and sell product: Real success is about managing to leverage a property and turn it into a hit — hey, even a global brand. That's what really matters to the bosses and their bottom lines back home.

Disney's top European salesman Tom Toumazis put it this way: "It's the experience of accessing our content that has to be enriching. That's what we worry about and concentrate on rather than exclusively how we monetize this or that new platform opportunity. We're focused on keeping our shows successful and finding new ways to reach people."

Toumazis was speaking Wednesday on one of MIPCOM's many panels, which in the past couple of years have provided stimulating discussions about the digital revolution and how broadcasters and producers are dealing with it.

Judging from these gabfests, paranoia about digital has largely been replaced by pragmatism. The new mantra: We know consumers want content whenever, wherever and however, and we the broadcasters and producers are finding ways to supply that and at the same time to experiment with whatever model works to get paid for it.

Disney, for example, has recently supplied, for a transactional fee, preview episodes of "Lost" on Germany's Maxdome a week before broadcast; created additive material online of the telenovela that Betty's family watches at home on the series "Ugly Betty" in order to attract new viewers; and harnessed multiple divisions of the company to turn "High School Musical" into an international phenom.

And Disney is not alone. Televisa topper Emilio Azcarraga Jean in delivering a keynote Tuesday talked about how the Mexican media giant had parlayed a musical reality show titled "Rebelde" into a worldwide sensation, taking advantage of all the company's divisional expertise and marketing know-how, from concert touring to Web sites to magazine profiles of the show's stars.

The hustle and bustle on the Riviera this week was not limited to the Americans. European sellers also were reporting booming business.

"Everyone is doing well, everyone is selling," said Irina Ignatiew, vp at Germany's Telepool.

The Munich-based agent notched several package deals with continental Europe, selling the multicultural sitcom "Turkish for Beginners" to Canal Plus in France, the RTL comedy "Poor Millionaires" to M6 and closing with Italy's RAI for the entire series of the long-running Autobahn cops drama "Cobra."

"U.S. series are strong, but European channels need EU content to fill their quotas, and they are open now to getting that from outside their own country," Ignatiew said.

That view was seconded by Oliver Kreuter, distribution head at Bavaria Media, who said 2007 would be a record year for the company.

"In Italy alone, we've had more than 100% revenue growth, and that's leaving out returns from our best-selling series there, the telenovela 'Storm of Love,' " he said.

Added Beta Film head Jan Mojto: "The cake is getting bigger. It is fragmenting with all the new channels and distribution outlets, but the business is growing."

Even if the broadcast business model is in disarray in Hollywood, and even if Google stock has topped $600 a share while those of the Hollywood biggies languish, the traditional TV business seemed in muscular mode as the Riviera-side market peaked Wednesday, with about 13,500 participants still wheeling and dealing into the evening.

Several impassioned keynotes, including remarks from Moonves, Silverman and United Artists CEO Paula Wagner, boosted morale and harmonized with the lively dealmaking up and down the aisles of the Palais des Festivals.

NBC's billlon-dollar deal to acquire cable outlet Oxygen served to remind the naysayers that there still is a lot of value in traditional media assets.

"Oxygen is a great complement to NBC Universal's channel suite and furthers our commitment not only to content but also to distribution," said Silverman, who was interviewed onstage by CNBC Europe's Ross Westgate. "As many of you know, I am from this marketplace, and it is one that I believe in and NBC is committed to," he told a packed audience.

The Oxygen acquisition comes on the heels of NBC Uni's recent deal for the international operations of the Hallmark Channel, under the umbrella of Sparrowhawk Media.

"I think it is quite an upbeat market — there isn't so much of the doom and gloom that there has been in recent years," Granada International managing director Nadine Nohr said.

Despite the fact that headlines — and investment valuations — have followed Internet upstarts in recent years, traditional vertically integrated media groups and their program brands are finding their feet in the fragmented digital multiplatform space.

"Of course, budgets are under pressure when ad revenues move to other platforms, but we are finding ways to do more business with those very platforms, and we now have much more experience at making those deals work," Nohr said.

MIPCOM 2007 also is the first market since the megamerger of ProSiebenSat.1 with SBS to create a new pan-European station group.

While ProSieben CEO Guillaume de Posch said it would take another 12-18 months to fully integrate the companies, ProSiebenSat.1 already was presenting itself as a one-stop shop for studios looking to sell to the group's 50-odd free channels across 13 European countries.

And off the Croisette, news that former media mogul Leo Kirch had returned to the rights business with a spectacular $4.9 billion deal to market Germany's Bundesliga soccer league suggested that just about everyone — even ones who had been burned by the biz — seems to want in on the action. (Kirch's media empire went belly up in 2002, and this time he seems more interested in sports rights than anything else.)

Beyond Europe, many eyes are also now focused on emerging territories, where opportunities are mushrooming.

Talk of 100 channels in the queue for broadcast licenses in India was upstaged only by the country's massive growth projections as the second-biggest population in the world warms to luxury brands and the comforts of multiple television sets at home.

Moonves told reporters that his company is taking a long look at opportunities in that region following successful moves there by Sony, Discovery and others.

Mumbai moguls Subhash Chandra and Ronnie Screwvala were on hand to talk up the possibilities on the subcontinent.

And for both their companies — Zee TV and UTV, respectively — it is, as for the Americans and the Europeans, all about leveraging assets around the world. A first example: Chandra's $200 million Veria health and wellness niche channel has just launched in the U.S.

Scott Roxborough, Rebecca Leffler and Janine Stein contributed to this report.
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