The disparate companies that have registered for MIPCOM 2013 range from Hulu, Amazon and YouTube from the U.S. to China’s Youku Tudou and Russia’s MTS. They are all expected to focus on one of the hot-button issues of the market: “windowing,” the process of divvying up the distribution windows among a growing assortment of clients without aggravating anyone. “There are a lot of services that are getting traction, and that’s affecting the television broadcasters,” explains Andy Heyward, co-president and CEO of A2 Entertainment Group, which produces children’s programming. “Windowing is becoming a sensitive subject, as is exclusivity.”
In some regards, the windowing issue carries no more weight than other concerns among U.S. program distributors and networks. But the situation is amplified overseas because of the sheer number of countries and companies negotiating for broadcast, cable, satellite, subscription video on demand and other windows. As with major global network groups like ESPN and Turner, there are players on other continents that have channels across regions, or which have local versions of channels in many different countries.
Balancing the interests of long-standing clients with newbies, and thereby widening the revenue pool, is crucial. International distribution allows American content makers to recover the cost of original programming. “For U.S. nonfiction co-productions, international funding can account for 25 to 40 percent of the budget,” explains Bruce David Klein, president and exec producer of Atlas Media Corp., which makes nonfiction fare. Adds Warner Bros.’ Schlesinger: “Our job is to go out and generate revenue from the international marketplace to recover as much of that [budget] deficit as we can. Only after three or, more likely, four years of production do you have the opportunity to generate syndication or cable sales in the U.S.”
American programs still pack a punch in the global market. For example, three CBS programs—The Big Bang Theory, The Mentalist and The Bold and the Beautiful—were recipients of this year’s International TV Audience Awards at the Monte-Carlo TV Festival. Research indicates that those shows boast the largest global audiences in their respective genres: comedy, drama and daytime drama. Another big winner in years gone by was CBS’ CSI.
And yet, the landscape is shifting for U.S. content. “Years ago, the U.S. versions of shows were highly desirable. Now local content is really at the top of the chart for clients,” explains Marion Edwards, president of international television for 20th Century Fox. The company has licensed local versions of 24 in India, Modern Family in Israel and My Name Is Earl in Greece. Likewise, some of the hottest shows in the U.S. possess foreign DNA: Showtime’s Homeland is based on the Israeli series Hatufim, FX adapted the Danish-Swedish series Bron/Broen into The Bridge, The Voice and Big Brother are Dutch imports, Ugly Betty was based on a Colombian hit, and the list goes on.
More recently, Netflix created its own version of the BBC’s House of Cards, based on a novel by Michael Dobbs, to critical and ratings success. Indeed, the U.S. has adapted many hits from the U.K., and it’s been going on for decades. Think of classics like All in the Family (based on Till Death Do Us Part) and Sanford and Son (Steptoe and Son), not to mention The Office and The X Factor. “The awareness from a studio perspective of formats or shows from outside the U.S. has certainly increased. [It used to be] if an idea wasn’t born here in the United States, you almost wouldn’t take the pitch. That dynamic has certainly changed significantly,” says Armando Nuñez, president and CEO of the CBS Global Distribution Group.
“The international marketplace is becoming for the U.S. a great place to find new ideas and content,” adds Lou Occhicone, president and COO of Connecticut-based CMJ Concepts, which distributes and develops nonfiction programming.
AMERICANS GOING LOCAL
A sort of reverse osmosis is also taking place. The business of localized scripted formats is particularly ripe right now in Latin American and Middle East markets, where there is a dearth of writing talent that’s found in the U.S., explains 20th Century Fox’s Edwards.
“Half of our conversations with the studios are about content they’ve already produced and half are about formats for local productions,” notes Angel Zambrano, vp acquisitions and syndication for Turner Broadcasting’s channels in Latin America. Similarly, Discovery Networks International has an initiative to create programming specifically for its overseas channels (encompassing 42 brands that include Discovery, TLC or Animal Planet). Among the series created for Discovery channels overseas are My Naked Secret about people who hide abnormal parts of their bodies.
For large groups like Discovery, MIPCOM is a little like a family reunion, as reps from its global channels converge on the company’s booth in the Palais and share notes on what kinds of programming they’d like to produce or acquire, says Luis Silberwasser, DNI’s evp, chief content officer.
Silberwasser is constantly on the move. “By the time you get done with the socializing, you really only have 10 minutes to discuss business,” he cracks. “But even if it’s a short meeting, it’s great. It gives you face-to-face contact with a lot of people who are selling content or creating content. And we’re able to take a pulse of the business.”