Ad Agencies Flock to MIPCOM in Search of Branded Content

The face of the global programming bazaar keeps changing

Jeffrey Schlesinger, president of Warner Bros. Worldwide Television, first noticed the changing vibe at MIPCOM a few years back. The global programming bazaar held every fall in Cannes, France, had for decades attracted many of the same distributors and content producers—an ocean away from the business-as-usual domestic TV business. But the same tectonic changes in technology and media that disrupted domestic TV have since spilled onto the beaches of the French Riviera, opening all sorts of global business opportunities for the old guard. 

 

“Every year or two, there’s a whole species that didn’t come to MIPCOM before who want to get into some form of the entertainment business and acquire content, and we welcome them all with open arms,” says Schlesinger, a major distributor of U.S.-made content that has migrated overseas in all shapes and sizes. (Warner also happens to be on the hunt for novel foreign concepts that can be translated to hit TV here in the U.S.)

Sellers like Schlesinger are shackled to their booths in the Palais des Festivals and surrounding tents for long hours, testing the limits of their bladders after one too many café au laits—while buyers do a mad dash along the Croisette. All told, over 13,000 people will attend MIPCOM, which takes place Oct. 7-10. The hectic pace has only quickened over the years, resulting from a shift in the type of business conducted there. The market has evolved from its original purpose, having in the ’80s attracted wheeler-dealer home video types and by the ’90s broadcast network suits, then followed by cable and satellite execs with original content in tow.

What’s on the agenda for this year’s gathering? As the gamut of digital-content players seek to expand their horizons, there will no doubt be a flurry of talk about the licensing of format rights, both in and out of the U.S. Negotiations will be informed by an increasingly sensitive issue: the sale of content to streaming-video players like Netflix, plus a growing number of services in Europe and Asia. “There are more and more channels there—electronic, sell-through-type operators like Xbox and PlayStation. We’re also seeing subscription video-on-demand services like Amazon and Netflix. There’s just more spectrum of diversity,” says Peter Iacono, managing director of Lionsgate International.

The arrival of over-the-top platforms isn’t entirely new, but it will only keep growing. Jason Ropell, Amazon’s director of international content acquisition, digital video, says he goes for two reasons: to meet with major studios and local content providers alike, and to meet with prospective partners. He uses MIPCOM specifically to acquire programming.

While the pace of the event can be overwhelming, MIPCOM “is a fantastic way to stay up-to-date on the changes, trends and the evolution of the business,” says Bill Simon, senior client partner in the global media/entertainment group at Korn/Ferry International. “It’s a way to stay a part of the industry and not just be a bystander. I always learn a lot about financing methodologies, different revenue streams, different economic models and different technology platforms.”

AGENCY ATTRACTION
Naturally, with virtually every technology and distribution platform breaking baguettes with content providers, a select number of ad agency execs are also searching for fresh opportunity—some to secure branded entertainment fodder, others simply for intelligence gathering. “It’s an amazing platform to not only network and meet the folks who are selling format rights, but also to meet the people who are creating some of those original formats,” says Brent Poer, North American president of Starcom MediaVest Group’s branded-content arm Liquid Thread.

Peter Tortorici, CEO of GroupM Entertainment Global, which creates original content for clients and puts together production partnerships with networks, says he goes to Cannes “looking very, very diligently for brand partners, [focusing] on what can be a successful property.”

And of course, finding the next hot property is top of mind for everybody at MIPCOM. One of the series Ogilvy Entertainment developed, for example, sprang from an initial brief presented at the show, relates president Doug Scott. The series, Horizons: An Insight Into the Future of Global Business, created for Ogilvy client Dupont, airs via BBC News and in syndication, and has been broadcast to 450 million people. In addition, 14 two-minute films airing during ad breaks reached an additional 2 million people in the first two months they were made available online. “It’s factual-based entertainment highlighting the companies, industries and countries working to address the

we have as a planet to feed, protect and provide energy to 7 billion people,” Scott explains.

While deal making is certainly part of MIPCOM’s appeal to agencies, its real value “is more about working with the lead studios and getting to know people in advance of deals,” says Liquid Thread’s Poer. “So if you want to do a global deal on a show that has different partners per country, you’re able to understand where the show is going and how you’re able to work together.”

WINDOWING PHENOM
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.”