Execs pondering financial fallout

Heavyweights have 'wait and see' attitude

CANNES -- How quickly and how widespread the effects of the global financial meltdown would ricochet onto the French Riviera was the question this weekend as a record number of TV execs and producers poured into this French city for the five-day worldwide sales bazaar known as MIPCOM.

Even before the actual program market gets underway Monday and as its kids offshoot MIPCOM Jr. wrapped Sunday afternoon, folks were metaphorically scanning the horizon of the yacht-filled Mediterranean port to see which way the wind was blowing.

Weather-wise, things were gloriously sunny and warm but there were unsubstantiated rumors that a number of execs had canceled their trips or that their contingents of sales people had been trimmed or that -- heaven forbid for Hollywood sellers -- prices for programming would fall.

The Hollywood heavyweights, meaning the top six studio program suppliers Warners, Disney, Fox, Universal, CBS Paramount and Sony, jointly raked in a whopping $7.5 billion in revenues from sales of movies and TV shows to foreign broadcasters in 2007.

Series like the "CSI" franchise as well as "House," "Lost," "Grey's Anatomy," "Without a Trace," "NCIS" and "Criminal Minds" have garnered record prices per episode in the last few years, but several of those are getting long-in-the-tooth. The strike-hobbled TV development season earlier this year has not exactly helped the start of the new primetime broadcast season Stateside, so pricing for those newcomer shows, however adamantly upbeat the sales teams are, has to be a concern.  So far: freshmen series "Life on Mars" and "Gary Unmarried" are among those holding their own in the U.S. ratings; "Knight Rider" and "Ex-List" are so far sputtering. However, it's not ratings Stateside that has anyone here obsessing.  It's the economy.

"It's way too soon for effects of the meltdown to seep in," is how one longtime MIPCOM-goer put it. "Everyone's just agog at what's going on in the financial markets. Everyone's holding on to the idea that people will still want to watch TV and hence, that our being here is the right place to be."

Jim Packer, co-president of MGM Worldwide Television, expressed the cautiously optimistic American view of things here in Cannes. "There has been no change in the level or number of meetings. Everyone seems to be here. Although there are indications of a pinch in advertising in the U.S., people are taking a wait-and-see approach and will be sounding out European broadcasters this week."

The organizers of the bi-annual MIP and MIPCOM markets, Reed Midem, were holding firm to the belief that the overall market for content is still expanding and that all would go off this week as planned.

"Despite the meltdown, we haven't had any cancellations in exhibition stands," the org's TV topper Paul Johnson told THR Sunday. "We're tracking 5% ahead of last year in registrants for MIPCOM, and MIPCOM Jr. was up "20% in participants."

Johnson went on to point out that the U.S. TV market may be maturing, and the financial problems quite serious there, but that some other territories haven't felt the financial sting as strongly and in TV terms are growing -- the Mideast, Russia and Asia in particular.

A record number of registrants have already committed to attend the five-day mart, and attendance could hit an all-time high of 12,500.

Still, there were rumors up and down the waterfront that the jitters would keep a few folks away: Some Eastern Europeans were said to be opting to attend the AFM in Santa Monica in three weeks instead; several local restaurateurs were shaking their heads at a few last-minute dinner cancellations Sunday night.

The overall trade show schedule of events appears to be pared from previous editions: There are no grand dinners, no Personality of the Year to be feted, no outlandish promotional gimmicks along the Croisette.

Some of the top names in the TV biz are, however, certain to hit town as they are involved in one or another keynote or panel which MIPCOM nowadays specializes in.

Among them: Viacom president-CEO Philippe Daumon will discuss his conglom's global content strategy; Discovery president-CEO David Zaslav will deliver a keynote about his company's Green initiatives; YouTube founder-CEO Chad Hurley and the BBC's director of Future Media Eric Huggers will each talk about broadband video and new delivery platforms; even former chief Mouseketeer Michael Eisner, who now heads his own shingle the Tornante Company, will be on hand to give his take on the content issues of the day.

There was also the inevitable, and healthy, trade show attendee syndrome: Once here, make the most of it. A sizeable swathe of MIPCOM attendees encountered Saturday and Sunday said they were determined to put on their glad rags and have a ball.

Celebs expected to gladhand and submit to journalists and paparazzi include Jude Law and Jane Seymour. Parties on tap have a Latino flair --Telemundo will host a soiree at the exotic Chateau la Napoule outside Cannes while Televisa will host a pour to celebrate its Mexican Fiesta programming banner; Spain is the subject of a special round of workshop discussions.

And heretofore unsung territories like Ukraine will man its first ever stand in the convention hall and host a party. As Alexander Van Dulmen, managing director of the Berlin-based Eastern European Acquisition Pool, put it: "There are more Eastern Europeans here than usual and the market in that region is quite stable. Poland is on a high note thanks to the boxoffice. There is lots of movement in the Balkan and former Yugoslavian countries thanks to the sale of channels." 

Russia, he did add, is nervous because of the financial crisis.

Germans will strut their stuff  on the Riviera, with Jan Mojto's Beta Film putting on its traditional Beta Brunch for buyers, while rival Herbert Kloiber's Tele-Munchen will inaugurate its international sales arm with a party Monday night. Disney, which continues to ride out the "High School Musical," "Hanna Montana" and "Camp Rock" global craze, will host its traditional press lunch with international distribution topper Ben Pyne on hand.

Even among Asians -- a part of the world that has been numbed by the stock market declines -- things seemed buoyant.  An Asian networking breakfast skedded for Tuesday is already oversubscribed.

James Ross, the Asia Pacific regional director for Britain's ITV Global Entertainment, told THR there's no sign of slowdown. His company is launching a round-the-clock paybox in the region called Granada TV later this month.

Finally, Reed Midem has invited magician David Merlini -- like Houdini himself a Budapest native -- to perform one of his death-defying routines underwater at the opening cocktail party Monday night. "If he could just work his magic on the stock market, that would be even better," one European Mipcom-goer quipped.

Mimi Turner, Rebecca Leffler, Liza Forman and Janine Stein contributed to this report.