High-tech finding new traction

Content suppliers cashing in on myriad platforms

Mark the date: MIPTV 2008. It might very well be remembered as the global market at which the treasure chest from all forms of high-tech media entities began to pay real monetary dividends for content suppliers.

That was the prediction from some major players and a scattering of indies as the sales bazaar wound down Wednesday under gray and rainy skies on the French Riviera.

But the gloomy weather couldn't put a damper on the upbeat mood among top U.S. studio executives. "Our business will evolve more in the next five years than at any time in the history of television," said Mark Kaner, president of worldwide television at 20th Century Fox Television Distribution.

He was echoing a point that was reinforced by other senior U.S. execs: that mobile content buyers, VOD customers, IPTV streaming and digital content players were writing real checks at MIP for programming deals.

Although details of actual deals were sparse, the chatter at the market's sunset was of the number of new-media players who were on the Riviera. Keith Le Goy, executive vp distribution at Sony Pictures Television International, said that the large presence of such customers as Nokia, Orange and Telefonica is transforming the ballyhooed potential revenue from the new-media sector into "real deals."

Kaner and Le Goy said that meetings at MIP with traditional broadcast customers and new buyers had been "wall to wall" throughout the market.

"People always ask me, 'Is the market busy?' and my response is that, for us, the markets are always busy because we set up our appointments well in advance," Le Goy said.

But unlike meetings of just a few years ago when traditional TV networks worldwide were shelling out major money for programming, many of the meetings now are with the on-demand sector. "We are moving into the on-demand universe. That does not mean that the traditional broadcast sector is going away. There will always be a demand for that," Kaner said, adding that content suppliers are seeing a very significant shift to the new media world.

Gary Marenzi, co-president of worldwide television distribution at MGM, added that he and his team had been busy signing content deals for mobile suppliers and VOD entities at MIP. Though the ink has yet to dry on the paper, Marenzi noted, "you have people coming here and taking the time and effort to outline their business plans and aims and we worked to accommodate them with deals that we did here at the market."

A significant representation at the market from the major ad agencies looking to spend money and explore opportunities in the new media appeared to have driven a lot of cash into the dealmaking, suggested indie producer-distributor Gavin Reardon, president of IM Global. "I would definitely say that this MIP will be remembered as the market when revenue started to flow in real terms from these new customers," he added.

"VOD is part of every deal we do now," added Dirk Schweitzer, head of program acquisition and sales at Germany's RTL. "It is becoming a real business, even if it is still small compared to our traditional free-to-air model."

While much of the chatter at the Palais was of the new-media presence and the advertiser-driven deals, many traditional buyers also were trying to pin down exactly what they could expect to see from the studios when they set out next month for the L.A. Screenings.

But the real buzz was definitely the new media presence.

"I genuinely believe that television is in its most exciting phase for years," said Mike Morley, senior executive director of commercial and creative affairs at Dutch format giant Endemol. "Whether you are in content production or distribution you have never had golden years like this. There is more technology, more platforms and more channels clambering for content than ever before. The next three years will give us a definition of the next decade and then there will be much more certainty for all."

Mimi Turner, Scott Roxborough and Rebecca Leffler contributed to this report.