Scion regales with tough tales

Murdoch recalls humble beginnings at the Palais

Elisabeth Murdoch entertained MIPTV delegates Monday with tales of her experiences as a "broke acquisitions executive" and "unknown producer" struggling to get meetings when she started out in the business.

Delivering the first-day keynote, the daughter of Rupert Murdoch said she started out "firmly at the bottom rung of the MIP ladder" and was unable to persuade studio execs to take meetings 15 years ago when she began attending the market.

Now the chief executive of Shine, the former general manager of British Sky Broadcasting called for companies and broadcasters to embrace and nurture creativity. Murdoch said that strong creatives would be able to dictate their own terms with networks and said U.S. indies should fight to keep hold of their international distribution rights. She also said that Shine, which recently acquired global format producer Reveille and British indies Kudos, Princess and Firefly, was "complete in terms of acquisitions" and would now focus on diversifying into areas such as advertiser-funded programming.

But it was Murdoch's account of her early days as an exec that had audiences captivated. The elder daughter of News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch proved such a draw that the queue to get in snaked down three floors at the Palais. Organizers had earlier advised delegates to turn up a half-hour before the scheduled start of the speech.

As a buyer for the FX channel in the early '90s, Murdoch said she had virtually no acquisitions budget and spent time wandering the lower reaches of the Palais seeking out foreign formats.

"Ultimately it seemed that I was always being chatted up by quite elderly Teutonic broadcast executives who could tell how green I was by the titles on the one-sheets that I was clasping," she said.

She learned the ropes, she said, "through endless meals at the Majestic and drinks at the Carlton while dreaming of one day staying in a hotel that was anywhere near the Croisette."

It was not until she took over as BSkyB's content head that she secured the coveted balcony meetings with "actual Hollywood studio executives."

But when she began her own production venture, Shine, in 2001, it was back to the "bottom rung of the ladder," this time as a struggling indie producer.

"It was back to anonymity faster than you could say Martinez," she said. "I am not sure which was worse — the early days as a broke acquisitions executive or as an unknown producer peddling my wares. But I do know this — I have come much further and much faster than I otherwise would have thanks to the many years and many adventures spent in this building."

Judging by an audience that included Sony Pictures Television International president Michael Grindon, Warner U.K. president Josh Berger and 20th Century Fox TV distribution president Mark Kaner, Murdoch has much less trouble getting those studio meetings now. Sony holds a minority investment stake in Shine and distributes some of its fare.

But she reserved some sharp words for the overarching studio model, which she said cannot act nimbly to seize opportunities. Pointing to the increased power and global presence of U.K. indies after the government there changed the rules to allow them to hold onto international distribution rights, she predicted similar changes in the U.S.

"This profound change in the U.K. has been a windfall for our industry and off the back of the international formats we all know and love — it has shown producers around the world the value of their creativity," Murdoch said.

"I believe this same realization is coming home to roost in the U.S. Format creators in the U.S. have until now been forced to give their international formats to the network-aligned studio. Although the market forces are different, the prevailing truth is similar to that of the U.K."