MIPCOM winds down on up note

Nonscripted series respond to trying economic times

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CANNES -- Creative financing and feel-good shows were all the rage as the MIPCOM TV market began winding down Wednesday, with buyers and sellers alike hopeful that the worst of the economic nightmare was past.

"Obviously there hasn't been a full recovery, but the general mood is optimistic -- there's less discussion about the economy and more discussion about new business models and what broadcasters actually want," said CBS Studios International president Armando Nunez.

Despite numbers down about 8% year-on-year, overall attendance of 12,000 participants was well up on numbers MipTV managed six months ago -- the two markets are usually on par.

Buoyed by the runaway ratings success of "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "The Good Wife," CBS had a strong market, and also renewed its multi-year output deal with Rai Cinema, adding fare from CBS Films to the mix for the first time.

"We're not foolishly optimistic about the short term, but there are some very good signs," Nunez concluded. The squeeze on international currencies and the contraction of local ad markets means that buyers unable to fund their own drama or scripted shows domestically are now flocking to buy U.S. fare.

"Recession is good business for studios," said another senior distribution executive. "What we do is still so much more efficient and low-cost than the cost of funding an original drama production, which in any case could still fail, that the acquisitions equation makes sense for buyers."

The challenge of funding high-end fare such as event miniseries will mean that more shows have to be co-produced, according to Beta Film topper Jan Mojto, who says that if artistic rather than commercial concerns can drive the projects, broadcasters will be able to avoid "the bad smell of a Euro-pudding."

"It is now very difficult to fund the kind of shows with the production values audiences want, so a broadcaster may accept a product shaped for the global market without shaping it 100%."

When it comes to nonscripted shows, the recession has definitely affected what viewers want, said Chris Grant, president of Elisabeth Murdoch's Shine Intl., which is distributing the Shine and Reveille catalogs. "There are a lot of people who are struggling, and more than anything people want shows that give them the opportunity to feel that they are not alone," said Grant.

Boasting its golden egg logo, Shine is earning interest in such uplifting fare as life-transformation show "Breakthrough With Tony Robbins," which has sold to Australia, Scandinavia and Canada and is due to air on NBC this fall.

Shine Intl.'s "The Buried Life" which has been placed with MTV US, gives a group of people the chance to experience the things they would want to do before they died.

"The whole idea is of hope and people helping each other. I think that is important," Grant added.

The return of comedy -- whether as a traditional half-hour show or a new media broadcast -- has proved another emerging theme at the market, with comedy stalwarts Jerry Seinfeld, Joan Rivers and Lisa Kudrow all putting in multiple appearances at the market to promote shows.

"On the web, your audiences find you. You just do your thing," said "Web Therapy" star and producer Lisa Kudrow of the new Web revolution. She added: "Staying on is what's important. You can't do that anymore on network TV.

Comedy doyenne Rivers, said in tough times audiences wanted to keep on laughing. "When you don't know if you're going to be working next week, or if your bank is going to stay open or if you did in fact invest with Bernie Madoff, you're glad to laugh."

Rebecca Leffler contributed to this report