MIPCOM: Glitz amid a still-tricky market

Entertainment dominates as distributors gird for selling

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CANNES -- Weak local currencies and the slow road to recovery were on the minds of buyers and sellers heading to the Riviera-side market MIPCOM.

Despite the tough economic realities, the mood is tipped towards optimism as the TV industry is looking to sell audiences on what it knows best: entertainment.

With a raft of exclusive performances, cocktails and parties, there is a sense that glitz and glamour is back on the Croisette, albeit as part of a pretty tough-sell as distributors go all-out to woo buyers to new shows.

Sunday night, global format giant Endemol is hosting an invitation-only chance for 600 clients to watch an hour-long set from Jerry Seinfeld to mark the debut of Endemol's global distribution business Endemol Worldwide as well as promoting such new formats as "101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow."

Seinfeld is in town with creative partner Ellen Rakieten to promote their new format "The Marriage Ref," which Endemol will distribute and produce the show internationally.

But underlying the wow factor is a sense of focus, says Endemol chief commercial officer Tom Toumazis.

"I sense that what we are seeing is more business focus: every dinner, every meeting has a business theme. I think the commercial people are signing off more deals," he says.

Toumazis contends that in a tough market for genres like drama, buyers see entertainment as a better bet.

"Local scripted programming has been a pressure point for many broadcasters around the world," he says. "Reliable non-scripted from big entertainment companies is in a much better position."

But breaking a new show is still a very tough call, says Matthieu Porte, head of unscripted at Paris-based Zodiak Entertainment.

"Broadcasters are relying on big existing brands, they still don't want to take risks," he says. Zodiak has set up a fund to produce its own pilots for such formats as "That's My Kid" and "Guillotine" as part of its sales pitch to broadcasters.

"We are putting money into pilots and testing. That's something broadcasters used to do."

Other highlights of the five-day market include an exclusive stand-up performance on Tuesday night at the Morrisons club from comedienne Joan Rivers, who is launching her new MTV series "Comedy Roast of Joan Rivers," while "The Simpsons" creator Matt Groening will be honored at a dinner and be interviewed in a keynote address by Morgan Spurlock. As part of the opening night celebrations, Hollywood Reporter publisher Eric Mika will host an event at the Majestic, toasting THR's inaugural International Next Generation honorees.

Keynotes include TiVo CEO Tom Rogers and Freemantle Media CEO Tony Cohen.

Away from the glitzy showfront, it's still the economy, stupid. But despite slow progress in Western Europe and the U.S., there's a sense that markets like Asia are leading the way back.

"What's amazing about Asian markets is that they are seeing GDP up between 4-10% this year, and people are hopeful that the worst is over," says Paul Robinson, managing director of global children's networks KidsCo.

"Currencies are stabilizing and people aren't saying 'can I do a deal in the local currency - people are happy to deals in dollars."

KidsCo recently struck distribution deals in Australia, Indonesia and South Korea.

Other areas that were hard hit, like Russia, are still in the recovery position, says the head of a local pay-TV group.

"Six months ago Russia was a "doomsday" market but it has stablised a lot and a lot of people think that it has bottomed out ... the difficulty is currency fluctuations, if you are getting most of your revenues in rubles and having to buy in dollars then that's still a problem."