MIPTV: VOD Attendance Grows With Premium Dramas Leading the Pack

"Rogue" brought star power to MIPTV

The annual TV market closes as producers and buyers talk about big shifts in the business.

CANNES – Early on in the week, BSkyB managing director Sophie Turner Laing said the focus of the international buyers’ summit should be on “discussing the shows, not the pipes.”  But it couldn’t be avoided as 800 international VOD buyers – a 30 percent increase from last year – made their way through the Grand Palais amidst constant chatter about Aereo, Netflix and YouTube and how they are upending the TV business landscape.

All the talk only sharpened the focus on the confusion that buyers are facing. “We have 3 VOD channels and now I’m buying directly for the web,” said Mikael Osterby, commissioning editor of Sweden’s SVT. “What kind of rights should I be buying? Are they for 10 days after broadcast, or if it is just VOD for how long?  If it’s on Netflix at the same time, am I ok with that?  And how do I value that? All of these questions are what the whole business is trying to figure out.”

Netflix flexed its newfound muscle with its second headlining drama after hit House of Cards with Gaumont International Television's Hemlock Grove, bringing stars Famke Janssen, Bill Skarsgard and director Eli Roth to do days of press and appearances. DirecTV, which has taken a page out of Netflix’s book with the commissioning of its first drama series with Rogue, brought star Thandie Newton to walk the red carpet and appear at panels during the week. 

STORY: MIPTV: BBC Worldwide Drama Boss Caroline Torrance on 'Demons' and U.S. Expansion

“We’re using a feature film financing model now to finance television,” said Entertainment One president Peter Emerson, who co-produced Rogue with DirecTV. “We’ve seen the success of taking a film experience into the home what it’s done for cable and how these types of seminal shows can really elevate and identify a channel. Production on these premium dramas is going to continue to grow and I can’t see it leveling off.”

With outlets like DirecTV and Netflix greenlighting entire seasons at once -- a tactic that helps bring the big-name talent on board -- the pilot model may shift to online outlets as companies want to avoid spending millions of dollars on an idea that might not work with audiences.

“We are developing original programming in what we call a short pilot process, in that it’s around 10 minutes and we drive traffic to it and see how it resonates with the audience before we move to a series,” said Philip DeBevoise, president of YouTube channel Machinima. “We have conversations with television networks and television production companies on a daily basis. A lot of the television network, production companies and producers have a lot of ideas but bandwith is limited on traditional broadcast networks. There’s a possibility to develop programming where we have infinite channel space starting with a short pilot and then developing that further.”

YouTube news was announced at the conference, when Endemol president Tim Hincks announced it is launching a channel for its Fear Factor programming as part of an overall online strategy to target specific brands and cross promote other shows.  “It is the wild west,” he said of the current TV business landscape. 

Branded content was another buzzword as things rapidly shift to online.  Vice Media won the Brand of the Year award for its collaboration with Intel on The Creators Project, is opening five production studios globally, and plans to launch five channels within the year. “Great content will find a home.  It happens when smart TV actually happens.  What’s being worked out now is the economics,” said president Andrew Creighton. “What’s going to happen is really strong network brands.  Here at MIP, everybody is trying to find the next format, and then the format is the star, but that’s not sustainable. The networks themselves have to have brand integrity and people will know that when they tune it that they are going to get something good. HBO has a very strong brand, ABC maybe doesn’t. The networks themselves have to stand for something.”

Formats were still hot properties as international buyers looked toward reality to fill their schedules. There was no game-changing format such as Idol or The Voice this year, and several international networks said they have plans to rehash such tried-and-true formulas as variations on the 13-year-old Big Brother.  Instead smaller, feel-good formats sold well.  Israel’s Armoza Format’s The Gran Plan closed fifteen deals during the market, including Scandinavia, France, Netherlands, Australia, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Greece and Ukraine for the factual-entertainment coaching program that had instant buzz as one of the hottest properties during the week. “People want to watch because of the emotion and the [subjects] want to make their life better,” said Vanessa Mouseler of TheWit, which analyzes TV trends, citing Zodiak Media’s The Secret Millions and La Competencia MX’s The Dating Office as other inspirational programs. Character driven factual series were also strong, as shows like A&E's hit scripted-reality show Duck Dynasty sold in several territories including Denmark, Hungary, Netherlands, Singapore and Canada. 

The blurry line between reality and scripted reality is also another question faced by buyers. “Is it factual or is it drama? Is it for real or is it produced? The genres are mixing,” said SVT’s Osterby, citing scripted-reality shows like Duck Dynasty and the five-part, 10-hour mini-series The Bible, which was picked up by U.K. broadcaster Channel 5 during the week.  “In the end, the viewer doesn’t give a damn. And it’s big organizational problem that buyers are going to have to face.”

Still, Liang’s plea did not go ignored. “Storytelling is the source of it all,” said Laurine Garaude, TV division director of conference producer Reed Midem. “We’ve been seeing more and more showrunners and producers each year, also coming here in the early development stages. These high-quality programs in drama are attracting a high level of talent.  The screenwriter and the showrunners – they create the programs and are now stars in themselves. They’re a becoming the 'big deal' that sells the content.”

Added Liang: “It’s the art of storytelling that engages and enthralls audiences.”