TV execs seek clarity, hope from G20 meet

Piracy, market stabilization among concerns at MIPTV

CANNES -- Stable markets, greater fiscal clarity and steps to avoid protectionism and copyright theft -- is that too much to ask?

After a week rife with speculation on the future of the television business, executives preparing to depart MIPTV fixed their eyes on London and the G20 conference. As leaders including President Obama hammered out a game plan Thursday to reverse the global recession, execs on the Croisette outlined a range of economic issues they say are critical to keeping the TV industry afloat.

"Most of all, we need a return to market stability -- then we can get on and do our jobs," said Lee Bartlett, managing director of ITV Global, part of one of many broadcast groups whose shares have tanked during the past 12 months.

Added a senior studio distribution exec: "What has to come out of the G20 is a real plan so the whole market can calm down. At the moment, it is impossible to make any plans for even the near future because you don't know what's coming next."

Some here said the G20 leaders must improve visibility in the banking sector, where fears exist that a tranche of loans to private-equity firms might turn sour.

"There are still black holes out there that might take a couple of years to feed through, but many of these assets have lost chunks of value, so refinancing is going to be really tough," said one exec with extensive banking experience. "It all adds to the uncertainty."

In addition to their macro-economic concerns, many here called for action to address the digital revolution's negative effects on all sectors of entertainment.

"We need some anti-piracy measures and we need them quick," MGM Worldwide Television president Gary Marenzi said. "Our biggest competition is not other studios; it's not other programming -- it's piracy. That's where we are losing the bulk of our money. It's taking so much value out of the business."

The Lion exec also called for an opening of global markets.

"There are too many import quotas," Marenzi said. "We are all hopeful that markets like China are opening up, but at the moment there are too many import restrictions. We understand that we have to be respectful of their culture, but piracy, censorship and import restrictions are all things we need less of."

Protectionism is a concern across the board, particularly as many G20 leaders turn to state-driven solutions to the economic crisis.

"I'm just worried about a return to nonliberal tendencies, increasing the role of the state in the running of business," said Jan Mojto, head of German production and sales group Beta Film. "We have a lot of experience with those models, and they have pretty much proven themselves to be failures."

The prevailing sentiment among execs here is that the entertainment industry can fix itself, but only if world leaders fix the economy.

"What I hope for coming out of the G20 is a return to confidence," said Wayne Borg, COO of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates-based media group twofour54. "That's the key to our business. When producers and broadcasters are confident, they invest in new content and new programming. When consumers are confident, they spend money on that content now and don't worry about what will happen tomorrow."