After storms battered the French Riviera ahead of the Mipcom TV market this past week, a shift to sunny skies brought what many feel was a rich event that highlighted key issues currently facing the international television business. Attendees buzzed about high-profile upcoming dramas — and whether there might be too many of them — while the importance of digital platforms has solidified, branding is more important than ever and shiny non-scripted shows appear to have taken a back seat. All of this came against a backdrop that saw damage from the deadly storms affect the daily running of the confab — ATMs were down across town and many establishments couldn’t take credit cards while fixed phone lines at many businesses were off and Internet was spotty pretty much everywhere making it difficult to get some business done.
While there were deals announced, including Sundance TV boarding Sky/Canal Plus heist drama The Last Panthers and A&E’s pick-up of Endemol Shine’s The Frankenstein Chronicles as well as Fox International’s global pact with Keshet for Hebrew drama False Flag, more than one executive told me it seemed that fewer deals were concluded over the course of the market owing to the abundance of choice. “People are overwhelmed,” one distributor said. “Rather than going home to think about deal memos like they usually do, they’re going home to think about what to buy.” Indeed, a major buyer said, “More people are unveiling projects that buyers are then going away to evaluate.”
The proliferation of programming means an awful lot has to get jammed into what’s essentially a three-day confab. So much so that Sunday is now the unofficial start with execs from around the world gathering in Cannes as early as Saturday, just to get a jump on jet-lag, meetings and screenings. Organizers Reed Midem are responding to the situation by adding a day of screenings ahead of next April’s MipTV. The MIP Drama Screenings will see about 250 buyers invited for the day.
Turning back to this week, the majority of the new projects that were unveiled on the Riviera were scripted. Among them, Beta Film’s Hitler biopic, the company’s contemporary Perfume series, and fantasy The Perished Land with Game Of Thrones’ Frank Doelger exec producing. There was also Tandem’s Code To Zero, a Ken Follett adaptation; the John Woo-exec produced Cognition with Global Catalyst; Netflix’s Italian original Suburra; and Mark Gordon’s first international co-pro Darkness Falls, with ProSieben. The latter is notably the only procedural in the bunch. A shift in the U.S. away from crafting procedurals has some European broadcasters wringing their hands given the need to fill pipelines and Gordon said one of the reasons he was in town was to explore ways to bring those shows to new marketplaces.
Mipcom was also used as a launch pad for major shows with talent in tow — increasingly making Cannes in October feel like a slightly dressed-down version of the town in May. In another nod to the film festival, there were movie execs crawling the Croisette. Notably, Harvey Weinstein came to town to tubthump the lush War And Peace, the first event series in what’s expected to be a continuing collaboration with the BBC.
Fox’s rebooted The X-Files had its world premiere on Tuesday with Chris Carter on stage for a surprise Q&A; The Last Panthers with Samantha Morton and Tahar Rahim was the opening night gala; Showtime unveiled Billions with Damian Lewis; and ITV’s Beowulf and The Frankenstein Chronicles were also screened. Also notably, Sony’s The Art Of More, a drama for Crackle that stars Dennis Quaid, was a centerpiece on Sunday night; it closed deals in 25 territories during the market.
In a sign of how things have evolved as Netflix, Amazon and other digital providers have become so established, the fact that The Art Of More was made for a web channel yet premiered in the Palais didn’t seem out of the ordinary at all. Conversely, when House Of Cards came to Cannes in 2012, its world premiere there was a real novelty.
One sizable deal that came during the market was AwesomenessTV’s strategic partnership with Endemol Shine Group to extend the former’s international reach via longform series and formats for both digital video and TV distribution in key offshore markets. Demand is greater than ever for premium content on digital platforms: Of 4,800 acquisition executives, 1,600 were in Cannes buying for digital. ITV boss Adam Crozier noted, “Younger people don’t see a phone or device as a second screen. They just view it as a screen.”
Showtime President David Nevins and CBS Global Distribution Group President and CEO Armando Nunez talked about “addictive” television and also OTT during the week. With brand awareness at a high in the U.S., Nevins allowed that “a lot of” Showtime’s growth “is going to come through broadband homes only.” Having begun selling subscriptions over the internet a few months ago, Nevins said, “I look at what Sky does in the UK with a bit of jealousy.” Referring to its Sky Now TV offering, he added, “I feel like they’re a few years ahead of us. But it’s been really interesting: I now have a much more direct relationship. I know exactly what episodes were watched last night.”
That jived with something new Endemol Shine chief Sophie Turner Laing said about content producers needing to build direct relationships with customers and “moving our center of gravity even further towards a focus on our programs as brands.” The power of brands has never more important, she said. “They act as insurance policies to the viewer.”
On the non-scripted side of the coin, the hunt for the proverbial next big thing seems to have folks taking a beat. Several of the most recent TV markets here in Cannes have had folks pondering what that show would be, but a string of expensive experiments like Rising Star and Utopia have led broadcasters to proceed much more cautiously. One exec lamented to me, “Is there even a next big thing anymore?”
That’s not to say swings aren’t being taken. NBCUniversal looks bullish on its QuizUp, an interactive game show based on the popular trivia app. It launched the studio-based format in Cannes by giving delegates a chance to win a Tesla Model S based on their knowledge of TV and trivia. The producers are looking to avoid some of the pitfalls of previous interactive show attempts, notably by coming with an established app. The cost-effectiveness of the format should appeal to foreign buyers — ITV was an early adopter, acquiring rights at the market.
Other non-scripted shows that had folks buzzing included manhunt project Hunted which CBS ordered from Endemol Shine ahead of Mipcom; and SPT’s Can’t Touch This which is from Stellify Media and is headed to BBC One on Saturdays. Contestents vie for prizes on a larger-than-life obstacle course — but if they can’t touch it, they can’t win it. Out of Europe, Fremantle had success with cooking show Simply Nigella.
But chatter in the Palais and at various events was largely about drama. FX’s John Landgraf proclaimed over the summer that there was too much TV, opening a hot debate. Mark Gordon for his part told me he doesn’t believe there is too much “good” television. Gordon sees a lot of opportunity, but suggests a healthy balance of caution and risk taking is key. “International buyers are bringing equity to the table… When you’re a studio producer there’s very little you concern yourself with other than the budget and what they’re spending on marketing. Oftentimes you’re able to take the money from your wins and not pay for your losses. As an entrepreneur and in (my) deal with eOne, the company will succeed or fail based on our wins and losses. I’m focusing as much on being bold and careful at the same time… There is so much opportunity to tell great stories. You try to make things that you fall in love with and you hope there is an audience for that.”
He added during our keynote session, “Someone’s going to need a show we make, whether it’s NBC, ABC, Hulu, Apple TV, or something on the internet that doesn’t exist yet; a good story’s a good story.”
Endemol Shine’s Turner Laing was also positive about the business. There has not been “too much good television,” she said. She wondered if people remembered a “distinctly non-Golden Age when there were loads of channels with bugger all on?” The industry, she said, has never had it so good.