MIPCOM: New Players, Regions Rise as Studios, Indies Celebrate TV's Golden Age

Starz's pirate series "Black Sails" with Clara Paget is a hot ticket at MIPCOM.

Record attendance and record revenues are expected as the world's leading TV market kicks off in Cannes, with Scandinavia, Argentina, Israel and digital players drawing buzz.

Ignore the still-shaky state of the world economy, put aside the disruptions and dislocations caused by digital upstarts, and forget that the failure rate in launching media content is huge. The global TV business is in the midst of “a new golden age,” according to attendees and organizers of the MIPCOM TV market in Cannes, which plans to showcase and capitalize on the blossoming of small-screen creativity – a flowering that goes beyond Hollywood's fertile fields.

Many of the likely record 13,000 delegates are already en route to the French Riviera resort for the four-day sales bazaar, which runs Oct. 7 to 10. It is preceded by MIP Junior, a two-day event devoted to kids' programming. More than 70 newcomers among the exhibitors will be taking stands, and program buyers registered to date top out at 4,500.

Long-running U.S. network procedurals like The Mentalist, NCIS and juggernaut franchise CSI continue to wow audiences in primetime around the world and will again make up a major chunk of the business done in Cannes this year.

But the real buzz is coming from the new kids in town. After a couple of disappointing seasons – The Mentalist is arguably the only new global blockbuster drama to emerge from the U.S. in the past few years – international buyers are excited about several of this fall's new U.S. series. The ever-picky British market has jumped on multiple series. Warner has licensed Hostages to Channel 4, Believe to UKTV and Moms to ITV2 in the territory; Disney placed Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD with Channel 4, and Sony has secured a berth for The Blacklist with British pay TV giant BSkyB, to name just a few.

In most other European territories, the U.S. majors enjoy ongoing volume deals with key broadcasters and thus their new output each year automatically is picked up by their foreign partners. But even here, buyers are abuzz about the new season's shows, thanks to the strong performance of several new series, including CBS' Under the Dome and Warner Bros. hits Arrow and The Following.

Hollywood accounts for the bulk of the money changing hands every year in this global bazaar in Cannes, and when all rights to their product are included (free, pay, VOD/SVOD) the six major studios easily rake in $10 billion from sales outside the U.S. Not only is the look of many current U.S. series as slick and stylish as that of the movies they distribute theatrically abroad, but their revenue from foreign TV deals is easily on par with their haul from international box-office receipts.

Despite economic downturns in scattered territories abroad, the key U.S. suppliers are adamant that overall their international TV business continues to boom.

“We’re on track for record revenues again this year,” Warner Bros. Worldwide TV president Jeffrey Schlesinger told THR. “Second SVOD and pay TV windows are giving us a decided lift. Foreign buyers continue to step up for what they need to have, though they may pass on what would simply be nice to have.”

The studios may be the biggest, but they aren't the only game in town, and MIPCOM will see the launch of several high-profile series from across the genre spectrum and from around the world.

Among the new titles hitting the Croisette this go-round are Starz’s pirate actioner Black Sails, the BBC’s fantasy skein Atlantis, ABS-CBN’s Filipino melodrama If Only, ITV’s media drama Breathless, the miniseries Houdini starring Adrian Brody from Lionsgate/A&E, and The Tunnel, an English-French procedural adapted from the Scandinavian series The Bridge (Bron) by Shine in the U.K. and France's Canal Plus.

Add to that the U.S. titles still on offer for many territories, such as Showtime’s Ray Donovan; True Detective and The Leftovers from HBO and the Breaking Bad prequel,  Better Call Saul, which Sony Pictures Television will be pushing globally, and this year's lineup looks to be one of the best of all time.

“The quality and quantity of content has never been greater,” says Laurine Garaude, the head of the TV division of MIPCOM organizer Reed Midem.

Schlesinger echoed that sentiment. “It arguably is a new golden age for television," he said. "Ten years ago, there were only four or five U.S. cable outlets producing originals; now there are 40-odd. With such a tremendous increase in outlets, everyone wants to be brand-defining and distinctive.”

The money involved? American producers spend three or four times more to make their shows than their European counterparts. That outlay also helps explain why U.S. series are still the most sought after and widely sold of all product globally. Even U.S. adaptations of foreign fare tend to outperform their original counterparts.

“I'm often asked if AMC's The Killing will make more money internationally than the original Danish series it was based on, and of course it will,” says Cathy Payne, CEO of Endemol Worldwide Distribution, whose Cannes lineup includes big-budget BBC war drama The Ark. “The budgets on these U.S. series are often several times what's possible in the international markets, and that shows on the screen.”

But increasingly the international markets are acting as farm teams for U.S. networks, developing and testing new series and formats that are quickly snatched up for an American remake. Showtime's Homeland, based on the Israeli series Prisoners of War, is the best-known example, but Sweden's Bron, U.K. crime series Broadchurch and French zombie series The Returned are just three other international dramas that have gotten U.S. adaptation deals. On the reality TV side, international markets have long been the trend-setters, and new formats such as Rising Star from Israel's Keshet or Sony Pictures Television's Dutch “celebrities in space” competition show Milky Way Mission are among the hottest on display this year.

Assorted niche fare from countries as diverse as Turkey, Israel, Lithuania, Japan and Argentina is also increasingly getting into the mix – and minting a growing share of the global trade in licensing originals and re-versioning rights.

Argentina, for example, will be the country of focus at this fall’s event, with panels devoted to the array of product emanating from Buenos Aires and beyond. In fact, an entirely new pavilion across from the Palais will be anchored by sales companies from that Latin American territory.

Special attention and panels also will be devoted to other new purveyors of programs that can travel beyond their local borders – think Turkey and Nigeria in particular.

Despite still sluggish economies in southern Europe and still skittish advertisers on TV in territories like Spain and Italy, Paris-based Garaude says that the MIPCOM and MIP gatherings continue to expand, reflecting, if not feeding, the healthy financial returns that the key players in the business are racking up.

“What is increasingly true,” she points out, “is that companies in this space need to work and think internationally. Their business models need to be global, and partnerships need to be established with like-minded entities.”

Those are some of the ways these media players can offset any downturns in the overall economy. She points to a recent report that indicates that French TV companies are enjoying record program sales, at a time when the overall Gallic economy is going through a bad patch. “They did it,” she explains, “by focusing their efforts on trade and relationships in Asia, with Russia, with Africa, among others.”

And the French are not alone in seeing revenues balloon from their efforts.

After the phenomenal explosion of the nonfiction format business 15 years ago and the subsequent rise in the last few years of digital players like Netflix, LoveFilm, Amazon and others – who themselves are starting to hawk their own original content – the hot tickets these days belong to producers in Scandinavia who have turned Nordic Noir into a household word, their counterparts in Israel who have, thanks to Homeland and Hostages, become the go-to source for espionage thrillers, and Turkish upstarts who are responsible for several buzzworthy historical epics.

For the second year in a row, MIPCOM also will play host to the Women in Global Entertainment Power Lunch, sponsored by Lifetime Networks and featuring an opening address by Disney’s Anne Sweeney, and the LatAm Global Dealmakers Lunch, in conjunction with INCAA and Telemundo Internacional.

In addition, organizers have put together a substantial roster of A-level executives for keynotes and Q&A sessions, beginning with the event’s recently unveiled Personality of the Year, Jeffrey Katzenberg. The DreamWorks Animation CEO epitomizes, Garaude says, the increasingly rich cross-fertilization of the film and TV businesses.

Other scheduled speakers include Relativity CEO Ryan Kavanaugh, MGM TV president Roma Khanna, Zee CEO Punit Goenka, Bravo and Oxygen Media president Frances Berwick and Fremantle CEO Cecile Frot-Coutaz. Among the digerati to be debriefed are Facebook vp of partnerships Dan Rose and Amazon Studios director Roy Price.