Pickup game starts anew

Sellers eye top dollar at MIPCOM

The Hollywood heavyweights are hoping that foreign TV program buyers get as pumped up about "Pushing Daisies," "Big Shots" and "Cane" as they did in the past several years about such global winners as "Grey's Anatomy," "Prison Break," "Heroes" and "House."

Starting today at MIPCOM here, Warners, Disney, Fox, CBS Paramount, Universal and Sony will get an inkling of the enthusiasm abroad for their latest shows.

If the program buyers fork out the kind of cash that's been paid in the past five years for American series, then the six major Hollywood studios can breathe a little easier, sensing that their revenue from foreign TV, both free over-the-air and pay, will remain robust.

At any rate, that overall haul is on target in 2007 to top out slightly above $6.5 billion. (The exchange rate with the euro, pound and yen doesn't hurt either.) Whether the eye-popping pricing for U.S. series holds up is the crucial question as some 12,000 TV execs trek to the French Riviera for the annual sales bazaar that runs through Friday.

"The demand for our content continues to be strong and in many places around the world our shows continue to be placed in primetime or other high priority slots," said Armando Nunez, president of CBS Paramount International Television.

"We're convinced that the quality of our shows has never been better so I think MIPCOM is likely to be an upbeat affair for us," one top American seller said.

During the five-day event, thousands of TV shows from around the world are bought, sold, swapped, packaged, funded, formatted or fashioned from scratch at 500-odd exhibitor booths in the convention hall or at the bars and restaurants lining the resort town.

Organizers of MIPCOM and MIPTV, its sister market in April, reckon that "several billion dollars in content trading" take place every year in and around the Palais. The American contingent and the trade in U.S. content is by far the biggest piece of the action.

Still, not everything works equally well in all territories, and often mistakes are made by the buyer or the seller. A few Europeans purportedly overpaid for Warners' "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" last year, only to see the Aaron Sorkin drama quickly get the ax stateside; several other foreign buyers lucked out in getting a first, relatively inexpensive crack at Universal's "Heroes" before it catapulted to the top of the U.S. ratings and subsequently in many markets abroad.

Not that the Hollywood studios like to chat about their deals: They typically come here in October to talk up the good ratings stories of the new and returning shows that are performing well out of the fall box. In some cases, the series have already been licensed in packages to major broadcasters abroad, but in other cases they are available on the open market.

So far this season in the U.S., there are a few good performances by newcomers to trumpet: NBC Universal International TV president Belinda Menendez will be hyping "Bionic Woman," while Disney's top international salesman Tom Tomazis can point to the solid numbers for "Private Practice," the spinoff of the medical drama "Grey's Anatomy."

For its part, CBS Paramount International TV will likely receive extra attention because CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves will be on hand for a day to collect MIPCOM's Personality of the Year award, an accolade that has in previous years been bestowed on his boss Sumner Redstone as well as on such other international players as Ted Turner, Silvio Berlusconi and Peter Chernin.

Moonves will deliver a keynote and submit to questions from the international media on Tuesday.

In addition to Moonves, several other key American execs will make the trek to the Croisette to talk about the business. Most notably, newly minted NBC Universal Entertainment co-head Ben Silverman — one of the execs who pioneered the transatlantic format business — will talk about how his international experience will be an advantage to his studio, while United Artists co-owner and CEO Paula Wagner will dissect the American movie business and discuss the stateside rise of new-style independents.

And Disney's soon-to-retire global distribution topper Laurie Younger will be on hand both to trumpet the studio's success with a batch of shows, from "Desperate Housewives" to "High School Musical," as well as to introduce around her replacement, Ben Pyne. The latter, who in June was named president of global distribution for Disney-ABC Worldwide Television and Disney Media Networks, will participate on a panel today titled "Media Leaders' Roadmap for the Future of TV."