MIPTV: Online Video Gets Its Day in the Sun at Cannes

Internet dynamos, including Vice Media, Maker Studios and DailyMotion, add energy (and capital) to the international TV market.

Digital has dug in at international TV market MIPTV and is quickly re-energizing, re-capitalizing and re-orienting the business of the small screen.

The first-ever international screenings for original online video, the so-called MIP Digital Fronts, unspooled Wednesday with several packed sessions -- and, more importantly, with some impressively sharp, funny, engaging content and forward-leaning keynotes.

Reed Midem TV-topper Laurine Garaude told a morning audience in the Palais auditorium that this fist such event was intended to put a spotlight on the opportunities for "the showcasing, financing, licensing and distribution of online content."

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The MIPTV organizer had been dipping its toe in the waters of digital content for several years, but this official recognition of its growing role in the business and its popularity with viewers, especially with millennials, couldn't be more timely. Not only has Disney just snapped up Ynon Kreiz's Maker Studios for some $500 million, but rumors are flying both in Europe and in the U.S. about other potential roll-ups of online video channel aggregators. Individual internetainers, who are after all the basic building blocks of such deals, kickstarted the proceedings.

In the first hour of what was a full day's worth of online information sessions, a quintet of YouTube offerings were sampled and scrutinized -- seemingly chosen to highlight both the range of output and the methods by which the creators go about putting their material together.

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The five shows chosen included an alternative news show called The Young Turks and a fan-targeted, soccer-related show called Copa90, plus three comedic efforts: JacksGap, Rhett&Link and Golden Moustache. All were visually sophisticated, verbally clever and energetic in feel, but most striking was what the creators had to say about working with the corporate brands that back them.

Take the Rhett&Link creators, for example, who pointed out that they much preferred the “creative freedom” of the Internet to their occasional stints doing television. "We prefer brand integrations. Brands fuel our content," said Rhett McLaughlin. "It's nothing that we hide," Charles "Link" Neal agreed, but rather, he added: "We converse with our viewers about who's behind us. In the end, it's great money for us, and cheap for them." The only stipulation: "We do get someone to wear a suit -- or at least a blazer -- when meeting potential sponsors for the first time!"

Similarly, an ongoing channel called JacksGap, created and featuring Finn and Jack Harries from the U.K., involved an ambitious pitch to potential sponsors to help fund an adventure trip across India with several friends, all in three-wheel rickshaws. They raised about $30,000 and managed to integrate products fairly seamlessly. Against the average five-minute length of such YouTube videos, they produced four 15-minute episodes, which each clocked more than one million views for an average duration per of 13 minutes.

"We think YouTube is headed to such longer periods of engagement," Finn Harries said.

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As for the newsie The Young Turks, its host and producer Ana Kasparian told the audience that it was "a massive misconception" that young people aren't interested in the news. "It's just that they want to be informed by people they can relate to. They see network anchors as simply folks who read tele-prompters."

In her case, the news is done live and unscripted as a two-hour block, and during breaks her team accesses viewer reactions and comments. "If a story doesn't work, viewers tweet and tell you how they feel. And we can adjust almost instantly."

Kasparian and her team are now expanding their offerings and attracting more diverse demos by doing a bonafide sports channel, another devoted to movie reviews and a third focused on college issues.

Other sessions and online keynotes were equally noteworthy.

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Rene Rechtman, president of international at U.S.-based Maker Studios, talked up the democratization of entertainment brought about by the growth of digital channels and innovative content. British video games devotee Joseph Garrett and American comedian and musician Chester See -- both of them Maker Studios hits -- were presented as two of the most talented performers that mainstream television has never seen. Garrett told Digital Fronts attendees that he is launching an online kids' education channel to be created by Maker Studios.

DailyMotion, one of the world's largest video platforms after YouTube, screened a teaser for its new half-hour reality show Jump Outs, a competition format that sets teams of contestants against elite police units. Co-produced with New York-based SXM, the show is the second original program commissioned as part of efforts to develop unique content, and the company will offer sponsorship opportunities to brands.

“We see it as a franchise all over the world, because basically we can transport it to lots of different cities with lots of different teams and we can organize tournaments. For an international audience it can be a really good way to engage different territories,” VP international content Marc Eychenne told The Hollywood Reporter.

DailyMotion will hold exclusive first rights to the show and offer second window licensing to traditional broadcasting and other mobile platforms, but driving talent to traditional TV deals is not the goal. DailyMotion is advertising-driven and, increasingly, from exclusive branded sponsorships.

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The company recently opened a three-stage production studio in Paris where it broadcasts a weekly DJ set show called Overdrive Infinity, which recently crossed the 1 million view mark. Plans are in the works to open a studio in London later this year.

The execs also showcased two of their talents: hula hoop world-record holder Marawa the Amazing, who produces and hosts show Quality Novelty, and adventure sportsman David Carlier, who founded the FreeRide World Tour. DailyMotion is working with talent to develop their own channels, and offers more favorable terms to talent than rival YouTube.

"We have a strong focus on premium content. You tube is great it's a fantastic search engine to find videos, but we see us as a video enabler for talent to develop their video strategy," he said, and noted that DailyMotion gives higher revenue share -- up to 70 percent -- for talents. "We see ourselves more as a partner than a platform."

As other companies are acting as incubators with the ultimate goal of getting on television, DailyMotion is doubling down on digital. "Others are mostly doing talent development to sell their artists on TV or on other media," he said, comparing their strategy to that of French online studio Golden Moustaches, who is partnered with M6, and StudioBagel, recently acquired by CanalPlus. "They don't really develop a digital business."

The company has also commissioned its first scripted drama series Portal, that will launch in September and a subscription movie service in Turkey, which is one of the company's biggest markets.

At one of the most invigorating presentations, Vice showcased its programming, including music program Noisey and Fresh Off the Boat, which is part of the slate on its new food channel announced Monday at MIPTV.

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It also aired trailers for its doc series Black Market, about the underworld of illegal global trade, and Toxic, about the perilous state of the environment worldwide, and finally for its eponymous Emmy-nominated series Vice, now halfway through its second season on HBO, hosted by CEO Shane Smith. The HBO show marked a legitimizing of the online media company, which has produced in-depth online documentaries while building a massive global following.

The enthusiasm of the audience at the Digital Fronts provided a taste of the devoted online audience, as Smith’s brief talk on stage was repeatedly interrupted by cheers.

"We're here to do a TV market, but I don't care that it's on TV. I only care that it's good. I think with Gen Y, you can't just stick your head in the sand anymore, we have to say something. That something has to be important."

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Smith expanded on the company's immediate growth plans. The company was valued at $1.4 billion in 2012 before Fox paid $70 million for a 5 percent stake. Smith says the value has quadrupled and can conservatively be estimated in the $5 billion to $8 billion range, which gives him leeway to develop new properties and to control the content.

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"We are selling TV to 24 different territories, but we realized if we can own or have participation in channels then we make a lot more money and, more importantly, have a lot more control over our programming."

"There's a lot of distressed media assets out there," he said, noting the company had picked up the London-based i-D fashion magazine last year and has grown that brand's value twenty-fold since. He wants to move that model to television: "We are going to move very rapidly into the terrestrial space because we realized that we are completely platform agnostic. We simply want as many eyeballs as we can get."