Warners Int'l cuts back on MIPTV presence

Unit will pass on exhibition booth at this year's confab

Warner Bros. International TV, arguably the largest distributor of TV shows and movies in the world, has decided not to man an exhibition booth at the upcoming MIPTV program sales bazaar in Cannes.

The reason? Cost-cutting to keep the division's expenses down during the recession.

WBIT president Jeffrey Schlesinger told THR that the move was, he hopes, just a one-time decision and not a comment on the usefulness of the trade show itself.

"We'll simply field a half-dozen or so regionally based execs who relate to our European clients, and I'll probably be there for a couple of days," Schlesinger said.

MIP, set for March 30-April 3, is the granddaddy of TV trade shows, where buyers and sellers of program rights gather for five days of dealmaking every spring. Traditionally, each Hollywood major fields 20-25 execs for the MIP market and several more than that for MIPCOM, the sister trade show in October, which is better-timed for the majors' new primetime series. Several billion dollars worth of rights is traded each year in and around the two trade shows.

"We're not going to rent a renegade boat or set up a booth off-site at MIP," Schlesinger said. "We'll just see our clients informally as needed."

All the other Hollywood majors are planning to man their regular stands in or adjacent to the Palais, and the trade show is tracking to be sold out.

Warner Bros., which recently moved its exhibition stand to the back of the Palais with a spacious booth overlooking the Mediterranean, had not locked in its MIP contract. Schlesinger made the decision to pull the plug two weeks ago.

It was unclear Monday which company might move to take over the vacated WBIT space -- or whether MIP organizer Reed Midem will try to do a deal for the propitious space with a newcomer for MIP 2010. (Warners apparently is committed to the stand for MIPCOM this fall.)

The Hollywood majors each spend as much as $5 million-$6 million all-in to attend the MIP or MIPCOM market, and all are under cost constraints this year.

As one distribution exec from another major put it: "We're all under the gun -- if it's not MIP, it'll likely be something else that has to go this year. We're all looking at how to trim expenses and avoid layoffs where we can."
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