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This indie rubs elbows with MIPCOM top guns

Even if you come from another planet, you won't need psychic powers to figure out who the world's TV behemoths are at next month's MIPCOM international media market in Cannes. They're the ones housed in palatial spaces with host bars and ocean or Croisette views. They are the big U.S. studios and the top European media entities, and they are bigger than ever after years of consolidation.

So what, one may be forgiven for asking, is a rather cheeky and energetic little company from Norwalk, Conn., doing poking sticks at these giants, and doing brisk business to boot?

Gary Lico, a jolly chap who favors colorful shirts and stylish straw bamers, founded his independent international distribution company CableReady 15 years ago. He has survived successive rounds of industry consolidation and the virtual annihilation of the independent distributor to become a MIPCOM anomaly.

The first series that he brought to the Cannes TV market 15 years ago was "Inside the Actors Studio," hosted by James Lipton. With its lineup of guests that includes just about every major actor who ever stood before a camera, the series was a natural for the global TV market and it launched Lico's fledgling company. The series is now seen in more than 100 countries.

"Back then, everybody was talking about the future being in interactive or the Internet. I said that I just wanted to focus on international because I really thought it was not being fully mined," recalls Lico, whose background up to that point was in domestic syndication working for the legendary Barry Thurston at Columbia Pictures Television Distribution. "I was a babe in the woods. I think we had a $3,000 budget that first year and we had literally just met with James Lipton the day before going to the market. We picked up a tape from him on the way to the airport," the veteran TV distribution executive recalls.

"As a domestic syndication guy from the U.S., I was amazed at the democratic nature of MIPTV and MIPCOM," he says. "Certainly you had the big guys in the big booths, but you know even in a small stand buyers would still stop by to talk to you because they were shopping smart and were genuinely on the lookout for something out of the ordinary. That's still the case today for us."

The company's portfolio has grown to include a slate of more than 40 programs and series that include documentaries and reality series such as "Brat Camp China," about China's one-child policy; "Japanese Cowboy," about a Japanese boy who wants to become a rodeo rider in America; and "Body Snatchers of Bangkok," about volunteers who collect corpses of murder and accident victims off the streets of Bangkok.

That's just a small sampling of Lico's offerings. Series include crime-solving forensic themes, real-life detectives, medical and celebrity shows. Lico says that the portfolio has mostly been designed and planned as a result of one-on-one meetings with broadcasters around the world. "It's a matter of talking with broadcasters and working with their schedules and niche programming requirements," Lico says. He insists that broadcasters still want to look outside the usual grazing grounds for cost-effective niche content.

"I can't say that consolidation has not effected us, because in truth our competitors get bigger and the channels we sell to are also now producing more than ever for their own needs," Lico says. "But as long as we stick to our knitting and know our niche in this game, then we will continue to grow."