MIP WRAP: no growth for MIPDOC, but participants still enthused...
May 1, 1999

MIP WRAP: no growth for MIPDOC, but participants still enthused

German and French programs ranked well at the second edition of MIPDOC, April 10-11. Of the top five programs screened by buyers, two were French (Galileo, The Messenger of the Stars, repped by Trans Europe Film and Illegal Sex, repped by Marathon International) and two were German (Russia’s Richest Women and Television During the Third Reich, both repped by Spiegel TV). The U.S. program Sex, Drugs and Democracy, represented by Ice, rounded out the top five. In all, 1,087 individual programs were screened, with the most popular genres being history, natural history, arts, music and culture, and current affairs.

Numbers for the two-day screenings were down slightly over the inaugural event last year. Three hundred and forty-seven buyers from 173 companies in 53 countries screened this year, as opposed to 378 buyers from 178 companies last year. It’s interesting to note, however, that the number of companies who paid to have their titles screened remained exactly the same at 217.

Initial reaction to the success of MIPDOC II was mixed. Two particularly prolific screeners RealScreen talked to were disappointed to have viewed so much and been interested in very little of it. On the other hand, most distributors still sound supportive of the event, including Olivier Bremond of Marathon International, who strongly disagreed with those who suggested the event is too expensive. On the whole, some distribs voiced complaints that more buyers didn’t fill out cards to indicate whether or not they were interested in the programs they had viewed, potentially saving them from wasting time on follow-up calls. At the same time, buyers complained of little time to fill out cards when they were attempting to fit in so many screenings.

MIPDOC also encompassed the doc-specific market simulation, moderated by Pat Ferns of the Banff Television Festival. See RealScreen next month for details.

The first day of MIP-TV (April 12-17) brought an announcement from Warner Bros. International that it had assumed international tv distribution rights for all current and future doc and reality product produced by Turner Original Productions and CNN Productions. The deal also includes a library of over 300 titles. Programs in the library, including Animal ER and more than 50 specials for the National Audubon Society and the National Wildlife Federation, were all originally produced to air on CNN, TBS Superstation or tnt. Previously, Warner Bros. distributed the CNN Productions epic Cold War. The dollar value of the deal was not released.

While relatively quiet on the announcement front, Discovery was using the market to talk up its ten-year anniversary in Europe and the recent international simultaneous broadcast of Cleopatra’s Palace (Toronto’s CineNova Productions). Other broadcasts in the `Expedition Adventure’ initiative will include Forbidden Depths (a film from Al Giddings, to air 2nd quarter ’99) and Napoleon’s Lost Fleet (a venture with French underwater explorer Franck Goddio, to air 3rd quarter ’99).

Discovery Europe announced its fourth new filmmakers commissioning series; this year, Dutch filmmakers will be on the receiving end of DCE’s largess. Ryninks Films of Amsterdam will oversee the latest batch of projects, eventually culling six half-hours from the entries, all of which will be based on environmental activism for a series called Eco-Warriors. The winning films will air on DCE in 2000.

Channel 4 International announced a US$2 million sales agreement with PBS, part of a larger initiative to increase its business in the U.S. In addition to selling C4′s Station X to WGBH’s NOVA and domestic broadcast and distribution rights for the Italian cooking show The River Café to pbs, the deal also includes some significant copros. C4I will coproduce History Lab (w/t), a multi-part series using forensic science to solve famous mysteries, with Thirteen/WNET. C4I will get international distribution. The second copro, Great Military Blunders (w/t), is a six-parter jointly developed by C4I and PBS. Produced by Darlow/Smithson, the series charts major military initiatives gone awry.

C4I’s managing director, Bernard Macleod, also announced that, for the first time, C4 will be allowing some 200 hours of program rights (mostly documentaries) to revert to the original producers, ‘free and clear.’ While the traditional production arrangement between producers and C4I automatically gives C4I all rights, Macleod says this move is part of a larger plan to give some ‘focus’ to the C4I catalog.

Meanwhile, given the current interest in Yugoslavia, C4I posted brisk sales of The Valley, a 1998 feature doc from Dan Reed and Mentorn Barraclough Carey on the tragedies of Kosovo. cnn, abc (Australia), CBC and Tele+ opted in, among others, and C4I will donate proceeds from sales of the film to humanitarian efforts in the region.

As for doc-related celebrity sightings, Roger Moore (a.k.a. James Bond) made a brief appearance at a short screening of the ZDF/UNICEF project, Children Without Childhood. The next millennium will bring the birth of the six-billionth child, but many are still being born into poverty and abuse. The disturbing 5 x 60-minute series looks at topics such as child prostitution and child soldiers.

Speculators were still very interested in National Geographic Channel’s still-pending U.S. launch, and producers working with the broadcaster have been talking up September ’99. However, Sandy McGovern, president of NGC, says not so: ‘I don’t think I’d even have time to sit and talk about it if we were launching in September.’ As a footnote, NG’s launch partner, CNBC, recently went digital into Canada on the look platform. A Canadian launch, originally a partnership with Atlantis Communications (now Alliance/Atlantis), is in a holding pattern as well.

Rumblings were also heard from the Discovery camp about further expansion of the `branded block’ sort. DCE is rumored to be working on branded blocks (ˆ la Germany with partner ZDF) in Austria and Switzerland. Sources were also hinting that a Discovery HD digital channel is on the horizon for the U.S. Mary Ellen Armstrong & Brendan Christie (For more from MIP-TV see La Cinq/S4C deal, pg. 6 and Fox Lorber, pg. 11.)

S4C AND LA CINQ SIGN CO-DEVELOPMENT ACCORD: docs figure large on the agenda

Pubcasters S4C (Wales) and La Cinquième (France) are joining forces on documentaries and children’s programming. At MIP-TV, the channels signed a coproduction development agreement, renewable annually. Though S4C and La Cinq have collaborated before (Saints and Sinners, with RTE and The History Channel; Egypt, with Discovery U.S.), this deal signals a long-range commitment to joint projects.

‘Our intention is to work on ideas over the next six months, and then to highlight between six and 12 of the stronger ones in which to invest further research,’ says S4C’s head of coproductions, Huw Walters. ‘We’re keen to work with independents and we’re also keen to accept ideas from independents,’ he adds.

Proposals for either one-offs or shorts series are welcome, as long they have broad appeal. ‘Historical, strong, story-based ideas always work well,’ Walters says. ‘It’s important that these programs have a shelf life so we can take a long-term view on investing in them.’

While S4C and La Cinq will initiate the projects, the pubcasters don’t expect to go it alone. ‘Very quickly, once the project is earmarked for development, then we’ll look for a third party,’ says Ann Julienne, La Cinq’s head of international coproductions. In fact, she says, they hope to have three projects to pitch to other potential coproducers by the time mipcom rolls around in October.

Walters says the commissioning fee will range from £50,000 to £150,000, depending on the nature of the project. S4C and La Cinq will contribute roughly equal amounts. Susan Rayman


Had a hankering to hit America’s open roads in style, but worried about missing America’s Most Wanted? Rhode Island-based RVH Industries has entered the booming market of land mobile television with a system that delivers direct broadcast satellite programming to motorhomes travelling across the great United States. The system – called the TracVision LM – provides access to satellite TV and music from Directv and the DISH network. Now if only they could do something about that pesky ozone layer…

HGTV NABS DIY ICON BOB VILA: $50 million anchors new lineup

Home and Garden Television has scored a coup with the addition of home-renovation celeb Bob Vila to its re-vamped line-up. Vila, whose nationally syndicated series Bob Vila’s Home Again is entering its ninth season, will host a weekly half-hour for the Knoxville, Tenn.-based cablecaster titled Restore America. The in-house produced series, which will feature restored historic buildings, neighborhoods and gardens in a different state each week, premieres on July 4 and runs through to July 4, 2000.

In addition to Vila’s, HGTV will launch nine other new series as part of its fall season, as well as more than 70 specials. According to Burton Jablin, HGTV’s senior VP of programming and production, most of the channel’s shows are commissions. A half-hour weekly series fetches a license fee of between US$25,000 and $30,000 on average, while a one-hour special garners $40,000 to $70,000. The channel, says Jablin, has committed more than $50 million to this season’s programming department costs.

‘Informational escapism’ is the latest trend in HGTV programming, a term coined by Jablin. ‘What I mean by that is that when watching HGTV, you can really sit back, relax and, if you want, enjoy it just for the beautiful pictures and the interesting people that you meet,’ he says. ‘Or if you want to absorb more, there is a lot of information presented in our shows.’

The traditional how-to shows haven’t disappeared, but they’ve been relocated to weekend and daytime slots. ‘Primetime is really reserved for more of the lifestyle-type programming,’ Jablin says. Susan Rayman

WINSTAR GOES VERTICAL: Fox Lorber, Non Fiction and Wellspring merge

Winstar has adopted a new strategy for its TV and video businesses – vertical integration. In early April, Fox Lorber Associates, Non Fiction Films and Wellspring Media (all units of Winstar New Media Company) merged under one banner, Winstar TV & Video. The new, New York-based Winstar entity distributes and produces programming for the domestic video market, as well as the worldwide TV, on-line and theatrical markets.

‘The main point is really to create a streamlined coporate entity that reflects the vision and strategy of our overall group, and at the same time maintains the identity of the different brands as appropriate,’ says Richard Lorber, former president and CEO of Fox Lorber Associates, now co-chairman of Winstar TV & Video.

For example, since the Fox Lorber brand is well established in the domestic home video area, Lorber explains, the plan is not only to maintain, but expand. ‘Formerly, the performance titles were marketed under the Winstar name, but now the performance videos will be marketed as Fox Lorber Center Stage. And all of our films [in the North American home video market] will be marketed as Fox Lorber films,’ he says.

Aside from the domestic video market, though, Lorber plans to concentrate on building up the Winstar brand. ‘Frankly, having all of the activities under the name Winstar means that it goes from Winstar Cinema to distribution by Winstar TV & Video to various other outlets,’ Lorber says. ‘We think we can make more sense of it than a Non Fiction Films production, which becomes a Wellspring release, which is marketed by Fox Lorber internationally.’

The competition agrees that streamlining makes sense. ‘I think that it was a very well-placed strategic manouever to vertically integrate all of the companies under Winstar,’ says Scott Hanock, managing director, international, of Sherman Oaks-based Unapix International. ‘It’s a way that a holding company can ascertain its market share and value once they’re all under one roof.’

Over the next year, Lorber expects to spend US$5-$10 million on acquisitions. ‘We’re going to be doing more theatrical acquisitions where we can acquire all rights in North America and, in some cases, all rights worldwide,’ he says. ‘In other instances, we’ll create value and get involved with titles by pre-buying or setting up coproduction deals for certain types of documentaries, as we did with a film like On The Ropes.’

Lorber says streamlining has not resulted in lay-offs: ‘We’ve only added bodies.’ The other co-chair has not yet been appointed, though Lorber says that person will likely serve a more honorary than active role. ‘I’m the operating co-chairman,’ he adds. Al Cattabiani, former president of Wellspring Media, is president of Winstar TV & Video. Susan Rayman


Ongoing merger talks between Time Warner and Reader’s Digest are reported to be stalled. The New York Post has suggested that the merger – which would create a US$5 billion powerhouse in direct-sale books, music and videos – may fall through due to the reluctance of key Reader’s Digest stockholders.

The merger, if it goes ahead, would include Reader’s Digest magazine, and Time Inc.’s Southern Living, This Old House and Parenting magazines. It would also include Time’s Book of the Month Club and Time-Life books and videos. Video marketing and distribution play a significant role in the revenue generated for both Time Warner and Reader’s Digest.

The merger comes in the wake of some financial troubles for the 77-year-old Pleasantville, N.Y.-based Reader’s Digest, which has seen a lag in readership in recent years, along with sales of its mail-order books and videos. The company currently has 27 million subscribers.

Spokesmen for both Reader’s Digest and Time Warner refused to comment for RealScreen. Christine Cowern


The Food Network is offering up a smorgasbord of opportunities for indie producers. All eight of the New York-based cable channel’s new series (set to premiere on July 5) have been commissioned or acquired – a big switch, says Eileen Opatut, senior VP of programming, production and operations. ‘Up until recently, Food Network did not invite producers to submit their ideas to us. We are now changing the ratio of our in-house production to out-of-house, and invite people with great ideas to submit them to us.’

Food’s new, open attitude is part of major changes taking place at the channel (which debuted in 1993 and joined parent company E.W. Scripps in 1997), as it attempts to attract a broader audience. According to Opatut, Food’s production budget has doubled over last year, and the upcoming schedule includes almost 1,000 episodes of new programming. Opatut would not get specific about budgets, but did say the commissioning rate generally ranges from US$20,000 to $30,000 per half-hour.

‘What we’re trying to do is spread out the umbrella, as it were, to all sorts of people who are interested in food,’ she says. ‘We’re expanding the genre of food beyond how-to, and including travel and history and music and humor.’

The third-quarter lineup features Extreme Cuisine, a 26 x 30-minute commissioned series (produced by New York-based Atlas Media Corp.) exploring quirky food factoids, like where in the world to find the most expensive plate of french fries or the most decadent desserts. ‘It’s taking it out of the kitchen, out of the studio, if you will, and getting it out on the road,’ says Maria Lane, Atlas’ VP of programming. ‘It’s really kind of going out there where real people are expressing their passion and love of food – in many ways, to the nth degree.’

Some of Food’s other new series are Best Of (26 x 30-minute, produced by Philadelphia-based Segueway Productions) and Iron Chef (26 x 60-minute, produced by Tokyo-based Fuji Television Network). Opatut says no existing programs have been cut: ‘We’ve lowered our repeat factor,’ she says. Susan Rayman


A&E has signed on Barry Schulman, former head of programming at the Sci-Fi Channel, as their new vice president of programming and strategic planning for the A&E Network.

National Geographic has announced the creation of four new positions at the Program Enterprises Group. Roy Ennis, former ABC/Kane executive director of finance, will be the new director of business operations. Geoff Daniels, former executive producer at Reader’s Digest Global Television, will be the new director of development. Former executive producer at The Learning Channel, Martha Conboy, is PEG’s new supervising producer. Jenny Apostol, previously the head of acquisitions at NGT, has also been named supervising producer.

London’s ITEL has named Peter Wides as the new sales exec for the Eastern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean territories.

Virgil Cotton has been named director, central region, affiliate sales and marketing for Discovery Networks in the U.S. Cotton is a new arrival from the Washington Post Company, where he was a national accounts manager.

Andre Provencher has been named the president of TVA International in Montreal. Provencher previously held the post of vice president of programming for the TVA Network.


SBS+CEM=billion dollar player

The recent merger of the Scandinavian Broadcasting System with Central European Media Enterprises has resulted in a broadcaster to be reckoned with. The new SBS has a billion-dollar budget to work with over the next five years, according to a report from The Hollywood Reporter, making it the third largest programming buyer in the world. SBS now runs 18 TV stations in 12 countries, including Kanal 5 (Sweden), Pop TV (Slovenia) and Nova (Czech Republic).


* ChumCity International has sold its storefront format to Casa Editorial El Tiempo for a Citytv in Bogota. * ESPN has named the two channels to be featured on the new hits sports transponder. Look for ESPN Now and ESPN Extra to air in the third quarter of this year. * EM.TV & Merchandising posted a 500% revenue growth over the first quarter of this year – DM 42.1 million, versus DM 7 million for the same period last year. * Team Communications Group in Los Angeles is planning a second public offering, which should raise between US$6 and $10 million. * Europe Images International has acquired a catalog of 325 hours worth of classical music, ballet and operas from fellow Paris-based GB Productions. * Discovery Networks India has converted its Discovery Channel and Animal Planet services from free to pay. * Discovery Channel has opened an IMAX theater in Berlin. * ESPN International and austar have signed an agreement to distribute a 24-hour ESPN service to subscribers in Australia. * Wildscreen, the Bristol Wildlife festival (October 7-13 in 2000) will be in its new home next time, part of the £97 million Landmark Millennium project next to Bristol’s Historic Harbor. * Manhattan’s BNN Productions has begun using the Internet to screen raw footage for upcoming shows, as well as footage censors have cut from their programs.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.