MIPCOM 2012: Promoters Bullish on Market Outlook Despite European Recession

2012-34 BKLOT TV Elementary H

CBS Studios' modern-day take on Sherlock Holmes, set in New York and featuring a female Dr. Watson (played by Lucy Liu), is arguably the only sure-fire hit among the studios' crop of new fall dramas.

American fare from "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" to recent Emmy winner "Homeland" will be among the offerings at the Oct. 8-11 event in Cannes.

Whether it’s Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo, Hoarders, Homeland, Hannibal or The Steve Harvey Show, content from Hollywood will be front and center at the upcoming MIPCOM TV market in Cannes, which unspools Oct. 8-11 in the French Riviera resort. But the most sought-after fare by foreign program buyers are the primetime American dramas that have just debuted Stateside or are being readied for midseason duty.

Among these high-profile hourlong contenders aiming to clinch remaining deals abroad are CBS Studio's Elementary, Warner’s Arrow and The Following, Sony’s Last Resort, Disney’s Red Widow, Universal’s Chicago Fire and Fox’s The Americans.

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The half-dozen Hollywood heavyweights jointly account for between 25-33 percent of the entire worldwide trade in content for the small screen, raking in on an annual basis an eye-popping $8 billion a year in license fees for their ever-bulging portfolios of fictional series, feature films, nonfiction formats, animation, library titles and odds-and-ends of docs, newsmags, talk shows, minis, made-fors and specials. (CBS, for example, is still laughing all the way to the bank with 60-year-old classic I Love Lucy to the tune of $20 million a year from foreign channels.)

Now for the bad news.

A deepening recession in Europe could dampen any uptick in sales, with latest financial data suggesting further woes on the continent before things presumably improve. The International Monetary Fund just warned it will likely trim its growth estimates for both high and low-income countries, while the World Trade Organization has slashed its forecasts for global trade. Folks from Portugal to Greece are taking to the streets to protest austerity measures and the allegedly uncaring politicians who are calling for them.

More specifically for media, Italy has seen its TV ad market plummet by almost 10 percent so far this year; Spain will have seen even worse by December, per forecasts from Zenith Media. As for Greece, many program suppliers have simply written off the country, which, were it to exit the euro zone, would be trying to honor contracts with highly devalued drachmas.

Still, and despite these gloomy developments, the global TV business as a whole has held up remarkably well against the downturn in other sectors like autos and apparel, so no one is likely to be crying into his caffe crème on the Croisette.

“This market? One of the biggest, busiest, best attended in years,” said Laurine Garaude, the head of the TV division of Reed Midem, the exhibition company that puts on the two global trade shows, Mip in April and MIPCOM in October. “The convention floor is sold out and we’re expecting 4,500 program buyers, 500 of whom in the digital/VOD space. And these latter are not just Google and Hulu, but new players from Korea, Turkey, Latin America and the like.” 

And even if this season’s crop of newcomer American series does not appear to harbor a fledgling worldwide franchise like the CSI and NCIS juggernauts, or show signs as yet of developing into a standalone hit like Desperate Housewives, House or The Mentalist, none of the major U.S. suppliers is striking a downbeat note.

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“Obviously, there are problems. But it’s not just a Euro thing. Everyone, from America to the smallest African state, has a financial issue,” said Fox TV distribution SVP Steve Cornish. “But people still need programming. No one wants to see the screen go blank. So you either throw up your hands or you run your TV channel.”

Other key Hollywood players felt similarly.

“Anyone in any business in Europe has to pay attention to the figures and the forecasts, but I have to say that we are doing quite well, even in hard-hit territories like the U.K. and Spain,” emphasized Disney’s president of global TV distribution Ben Pyne. (Europe represents the biggest client for Yank product, accounting for 70 percent of overall revenues flowing back to the Hollywood majors.) “Our meeting schedules at MIPCOM are as tight as ever and our portfolio of product as hefty as ever.” Other parts of the world, including Latin America and Asia, are actually on a buying tear, Pyne pointed out.

U.S. independents too are finding new ways to get in on the foreign action.

Mini-major Lionsgate is fielding both a primetime country music-inflected sudser, for CBS Stateside, called Nashville and its much-ballyhooed syndicated sitcom, for cable network FX, called Anger Management toplining Charlie Sheen.

Newcomer to the fray Condé Nast is coming to the Croisette to tub-thumb its new entertainment division under former CW topper Dawn Ostroff, who is assembling a team to exploit the publishing giant’s storied print brands on other platforms.

In her job for 10 months, Ostroff told THR it’s been “eye-opening” to see how global in reach and appeal the company’s 124 magazines are, from Vanity Fair and the New Yorker to Vogue, Bon Appetit and Condé Nast Traveler. “We publish in a variety of categories and, though it’s early days for our division, we’re optioning a lot of projects and moving ahead rapidly with our video and digital strategies. Idea is to translate the great talent and content from our print properties across a gamut of other platforms and we’ll be looking for producing partners while in Cannes.” 

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Another indie player, 2-year-old Gaumont International TV, comes to Cannes with several projects greenlit. Among them are the aforementioned Hannibal, which is headed to NBC, and Hemlock Grove, which is one of Netflix’s first fiction commissions. Then there’s Barbarella, based on the eponymous European graphic novel. Recently picked up by Canal Plus in France, the series will be exec produced by Danish director Nick Refn (Drive).

“It’s an interesting time to be an independent,” Gaumont Intl TV CEO Katie O’Connell said. “Of course the American majors have their giant footprint, but we have specificity and nimbleness on our side. The foreign marketplace nowadays is wide open and international broadcasters are eager to co-produce.”

And it won’t just be the shows which grab the attention of the 12,000 participants from around the world who are expected to fly in for the TV bazaar. The Reed Midem organizers have lined up a slew of Stateside executives and creative types who will deliver keynotes or otherwise regal attendees with their insights into the biz – everyone from Warner Bros. TV chieftain Bruce Rosenblum to movie meister Harvey Weinstein, from reality guru Mark Burnett to film auteur Jane Champion, from Google’s Robert Kyncl and Hulu’s Jason Kilar to AETN’s Nancy Dubuc, Sony’s Andrea Wong and Condé Nast’s Ostroff.


Special screenings too will put the accent on Yank fare, including the world premiere of the pilot of Fox’s upcoming series The Americans (for FX in the States) and Burnett’s first-ever docudrama The Bible for the History Channel, as well as a master class with NCIS exec producer Gary Glasberg.

“International relationships are increasingly important in our business,” said Garaude. “Participants want to stay ahead of the trends and they want to engage in highly targeted networking. People still need face time for complex funding and co-production arrangements.” 

It’s not just the Americans who will have a chance to shine on the Croisette. Every MIPCOM organizers turn the spotlight on a different country and its content creators. This go-round the focus is on Canada, which is enjoying considerable success in having its content travel beyond the Great White North. Also, organizers have selected Emilio Azcarraga Jean as their Personality of the Year this time around: The head of Mexico’s powerhouse broadcaster Televisa will be feted for his contributions to the global biz and his network’s impact on international programming.

As MIPCOM organizers put it, the intense four-day market is “the only place where you can network, do business, discover trends and cement partnerships face to face on a global business.”

Among those networking options will be two new events: a first-ever power lunch for women in the global entertainment business, with 150 invited guests and a panel featuring Dubuc, BSkyB’s Sophie Turner Laing, Fox’s Marion Edwards and Russia Today’s editor Margarita Simonyan, and a Latino lunch for global dealmakers, with the Cisneros Group’s Adriana Cisneros serving up remarks.

Not to be outdone, the Europeans too are flexing their muscles, especially as locally produced fare, both fiction and non, has improved in production values and popularity with every successive season.

In privileging their homegrown fare in primetime, major players like Germany’s RTL, France’s TF1 and Britain’s BBC have largely dislodged all but the top U.S. imports from those slots.

Intriguingly and most recently, emerging markets are revving up their own creative mojo. Turkish telenovelas, of all things, have nudged out American series in primetime and those “Istanbul-ish” sudsers are bubbling over into good time periods in the rest of the Middle East and into Eastern Europe.

“These are great shows that appeal to the audiences in those regions and do very, very well,” Fox’s Cornish pointed out. “We definitely see them as our competition." 

In fact, visible in the Palais convention hall will be a new emphasis on emerging territories whose indigenous content is attracting international attention. Three separate events will focus on the blossoming of creativity stimulated by the Arab Spring. Four Mideast mavens -- Ahmad Abdalatief, Sadek Sabbah, Bassam Hajjawi and Ziad Kebbi -- will converse on the theme of global opportunities for Arabic fare, while Turkey, givern its uptick in local fiction production, will feature in a separate sidebar chat.  

Scott Roxborough in Cologne, Germany, contributed to this report.