Advertisers, come join the party

TV market: Branded entertainment is key to growth

How to lure the advertisers into the new-media mix: That's the task facing the international TV business as content providers cautiously cozy up to the digital carriers that now dot the media landscape.

Getting brand names to underpin this new world order is, at any rate, how the organizers of the MIPCOM TV market here described what has to happen in order for the global program business to prosper.

"We'll be trying to facilitate the dialogue between creatives, the ad agencies and the new digital players at upcoming markets like MIP next April," said Paul Johnson, head of Reed Midem's TV division, which organizes the two markets. The five-day MIPCOM market ends today.

Branded entertainment has been a buzzword this week on the Croisette, and much of the discussion at panels and at late-night bars has centered on how to get advertisers involved with the new platforms.

In remarks to reporters Thursday, Johnson said that the content market is worth about $90 billion worldwide but that the total advertising market dwarfs that at $380 billion. And even though the bulk of ad dollars is earmarked for traditional media, a revolutionary shift toward new platforms and new models is under way.

If, for example, a YouTube phenomenon like Lonelygirl15 can attract 70 million viewers, that's an advertising proposition that has to be enticing. Because there are fewer regulations in the Internet and mobile spheres, the growth of new ad models on those platforms should become more dynamic, Johnson believes.

As for the more traditional business of buying and selling broadcast rights to shows during the market, Johnson described the level of activity at the Cannes market as "buoyant," with the success of U.S. dramas in particular having stoked the engine.

"A lot of folks are focused on narrative content at this market because of the success internationally of shows like 'CSI,' " he said.

Market organizers claim that about $10 billion in transactions have been negotiated or actually closed in and around April's MIP and this MIPCOM trade show. A more precise accounting is soon to be undertaken by Reed Midem through a survey of the world's top 500 program buyers. (Sellers, starting with the Hollywood conglomerates, always have been loath to talk about the revenue from their programming deals abroad.)

Still, the key sellers don't mind talking about trends in the business.

Warner Bros. International TV president Jeffrey Schlesinger pointed out that U.S. shows are doing well in Europe, not just because their quality is so high but also because local production attempts in several key territories to replicate these series (think France and Germany) have fallen on their face.

"It's all cyclical, but right now a number of local series are not doing well," he said. What the foreign market is looking for right now, he opined, is dramas about "unusual or quirky characters in extraordinary situations."

Warners is selling one such show, "Pushing Daisies," which ITV in the U.K. has already plucked. Other deals in Europe are pending.

In any case, there was visible hustle and bustle in and around the Palais de Festival this week, with an increase in attendance to 13,300, up 7% over last year's edition. The total number of exhibitors rose to 1,800, up 10%, while the total number of program buyers hit 4,240, a gain of 10% from the previous frame.

"Our biggest practical challenge is how to find space for companies that want to expand their presence," Johnson said. Disney and Warners both took larger spaces this go-round outside the main Palais and overlooking the harbor.

Glorious weather and less obtrusive security measures also bettered the mood of participants, most of whom were still traipsing to meetings or attending panel sessions as Thursday afternoon passed.

"The first three days were incredibly intense," said Fox International president Marion Edwards, who was wrapping up some final meetings Thursday afternoon. She confirmed that most of her business nowadays involved VOD and other new-media components. "We'll soon have some things to talk about regarding deals we're doing on new platforms," she said.