In waves on the Riviera
Pace of sales swift as TV bazaar gets under wayCalling the international TV marketplace "healthier, more open and more frenetic" than he'd ever seen it, CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves delivered a keynote address Monday at MIPCOM that mirrored the hustle and bustle along the Croisette.
In fact, a record 13,500 participants from 105 countries poured into the Riviera resort during the weekend for the semi-annual program sales bazaar that runs through Friday. The vast majority of attendees are here for five heady days of wheeling and dealing in program rights, with American TV shows a major part of the horse-trading.
Among the U.S. series that already have prompted program buyers to open their pocketbooks are the CBS-distributed Showtime sizzler "Californication," which has been snapped up by Britain's Channel 5, Germany's TeleMunchen and France's M6; Disney's "High School Musical 2," which has racked up deals in 40 territories and counting; and Sony's game show "Power of 10," which has closed format deals with France's TF1, Oz's Nine Network and Greece's Mega.
"Our business has never been stronger," said Disney's new global distribution chieftain Ben Pyne, who is making his MIPCOM debut. He pointed to growth prospects in Russia, the Middle East, China and India as particularly alluring.
Pyne's predecessor, outgoing distribution president Laurie Younger, told The Hollywood Reporter that Disney's revenue from foreign TV sales has "doubled" in just the past four years thanks in large part to such primetime hits as "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives." With a particular nod to stunning prices paid by British and French buyers in the past two years, these series are purportedly raking in $2 million an episode in total foreign license fees. (The average haul from foreign for an hour drama was $500,000 per episode just five years ago.)
To ensure the upward trend continues, Disney has brought along to Cannes ABC programming topper Steve McPherson, who Monday night hosted a screening for the company's latest primetime drama hopeful, "Private Practice."
Moonves is being feted in Cannes as the Personality of the Year by MIPCOM organizers Reed Midem for his contributions to the global business. During his remarks, Moonves seized the opportunity to trumpet the merits of "mass appeal content" — shows like the Eye's own mega-franchise "CSI," which the exec said has become through all its iterations and ancillaries a $2 billion bonanza for the company.
"We the broadcasters are the guys who feed the world what it wants to watch," he told a packed audience of 750 attendees gathered for the first time at MIPCOM in the august auditorium used by the Festival de Cannes for its Competition movies. Whatever the multiple platforms that emerge, he added, "they're always going to need us."
In short, he argued, "wireless is useless if hitless."
Moonves pointed out that CBS is actively experimenting with different ways to get paid for content on some of the newer platforms, suggesting that so far an ad-supported rather than a subscription model seems to be working best. He also said the Eye had begun to respond to Web viewers' predilections for short, snappy, interactive pieces of content by "mashing up" its own content and providing it in bits and pieces to these younger demos.
After Cannes, Moonves heads for London where he'll check in on one of the Eye's latest acquisitions, a social networking company called Last.fm, which he indicated could expand beyond its music focus to exploit CBS' TV assets online.
"If there's social networking around music, there should be about sports shows and news shows," Moonves said. "As a result, we view this as a great future possibility for us."
As for the richness and variety of what's being produced outside the U.S., Moonves admitted to his interviewer Peter Bazalgette, who is also chief creative officer at European format factory Endemol, that "Americans had been slow on the uptake."
But what started as a trickle 10 years ago when Moonves snapped up "Survivor" — a show, he admitted, he had little hope of succeeding in America — and soon after that "Big Brother" from Endemol, has turned in to a two-way tidal wave.
Not just reality concepts are being bought and sold worldwide, but dramas and sitcoms are increasingly being repurposed and customized all over the world. CBS has retooled "Viva Blackpool" as "Viva Laughlin," while NBC has turned the BBC series "The Office" into a hit. Dick Wolf's "Law & Order" franchise is being refashioned in both France and Russia. Disney's "Hannah Montana" is being remounted in Japan in a localized version, while India is mounting its own "High School Musical" series.
India was the object of special treatment Monday as MIPCOM organizers trained a spotlight on media developments on the subcontinent. Three top execs — Zee TV titan Subhash Chandra, UTV's Ronnie Screwvala and Sony TV India's Kunal Dasgupta — all had a chance to trumpet their emergence on the international scene.
Chandra, who is arguably Mumbai's closest equivalent to a Rupert Murdoch, talked up the global prospects for his country's media players, pointing to the recent launch in the U.S. of Veria, a health and wellness channel in which he has invested $200 million and which he believes could fill an underserved niche throughout the world.