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.”


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.”