MIPCOM 2012: Business Still Buoyant at International TV Market

mipcom logo - H 2012

Despite global economic woes, attendance and sales were strong on the French Rivera.


CANNES – Europe is mired in a recession and collapsing under massive debt; America looms ever closer to the fiscal cliff that could kill the country's meager economic recovery and even China and India have seen better days.

So why was everyone at MIPCOM smiling?

There were few signs of the global economic gloom among the 13,000 television executives descended on Cannes for the four-day small screen confab, which wraps up today. The lobby of the Carlton Hotel was as packed as ever, there were the same horde of drunken dealmakers amassed outside the Grand till the wee hours of every morning and execs headed back home Thursday with stacks of deal memos for scripted series, movies and those ever-proliferating non-fiction formats.

Even the weather played ball – with four days of balmy Rivera sunshine helping, it seemed, to lift buyers' moods.

The pavilions set up outside along the seafront by Warners, Disney and Sony and the inside the Palais manned by Universal, Fox and CBS were crowded throughout the four-day event.

Organizers reported a jump in companies attending, with the number of firms from Latin America increasing 36 percent and 116 Chinese firms making the trip, a 30 percent jump. Despite the ongoing consolidation in the independent market, the number of U.S. firms attending MIPCOM this year was also up a solid 11 percent. All the U.S. majors were represented, including DreamWorks - which made its debut appearance at the Cannes market - and several film indies, including The Weinstein Company and Sierra/Affinity, both of which used MIPCOM to announce a major move into television sales and production.

“TV is such an exciting area at the moment and movies are shrinking to some extent. So it’s the right time for us to get into TV in a big way,” said TWC co-chairman Harvey Weinstein, who attended his first MIPCOM this year and used to platform to announce a new live TV awards show called the World Dance Awards, which TWC will produce together with Irish stepdance superstar Michael Flatley.

The digital giants were back at MIPCOM but this time they'd come of age. Google/YouTube, Hulu, Netflix and their copycats and competitors around the globe came to the market to buy and, increasingly, to make product. Robert Kyncl, VP and Global head of content at Google/YouTube announced the launch of 60 new international online channels at MIPCOM – as the Internet giant partners with established TV production operations including FremantleMedia, BBC Worldwide and Endemol to, effectively, turn itself into a online version of free-to-air television.

Netflix unveiled its first commissioned series - the hotly-anticipated House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey and directed by David Fincher – which is the subscription streaming service's attempt to become the new HBO.

Even Hulu, while not moving into original production just yet, pledged to work more closely with traditional broadcasters around the world. Hulu CEO Jason Kilar wet the appetites of MIPCOM delegates by quoting his content acquisition budget: more than $500 million so far this year.

But even the bread-and-butter business of sales to over-the-air broadcasters was buoyant. After a underwhelming May Screenings, there were doubts as to whether the studios would be able to deliver sales for their new slate but several new titles, including ABC's Last Resort, Scandal and Nashville, CW's Beauty and the Beast and Warner's Revolution were hot and fielding multiple offers.

CBS Studios Intl. president Armando Nuneztold THR he observed renewed energy at the show and a lot of deal-making going on.

The distribution arm of the Eye also brought along the exec producer and the star of its long-running global hit, NCIS, Gary Glasberg and Michael Weatherly (who plays agent Anthony DiNozzo).

For his part, Weatherly seemed to exemplify a new breed of American actor who, as they say in Cannes, "get" international. He rattled off the names of the main foreign broadcasters who air the show -- and without prompting chatted about their importance to the success of the franchise.

"It's been clear to Mark (Harmon) and to me for a long time that this is a crucial part of the business. And no, CBS did not have to prep me," he told THR. The show is now in its tenth season.

Weatherly wasn't the only Hollywood VIP to do the MIPCOM circuit this year. A-list names including Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Gillian Anderson, Mathew Modine and The Walking Dead's Sarah Wayne Callies made the trip – pointing to a broader trend among sales companies – major or independent – of using stars to attract attention and leverage deals.

But while Hollywood's scripted fare got a lot of attention, there was a veritable frenzy around non-fiction formats at MIPCOM, from the strangest of Japanese game shows to the “shiny floor” extravaganzas of song and dance competitions to projects – such as FremantleMedia's Bang, Bang- that, well, defy easy categorization.

The format business is one that has traditionally dominated by independents – most of them European, from established veterans such as Endemol, Eyeworks and Fremantle to newer players including Germany's Red Arrow and Paris-based Banijay Group.

But over the last few years, Hollywood majors have also gotten into the format game. Warner Bros, for example, recently snatched up the U.K. Production group Shed and the Dutch/Belgian operation BlazHoffski.

“I can understand why they want to get into this business because it is a growing one and one who major potential worldwide,” Banijay Group EVP Francois de Brugada told THR. “But it isn't the same as selling big U.S. series to the world. Non-fiction is a very local business and its very tough to do from the top down.”

It remains to be seen whether the Studios' move into formats and non-fiction will prove a game changer. But if the crowds - and deals at MIPCOM are any indication, whatever shape the television business takes in the coming years, its future looks as bright as the Riveria sunshine.