Call it the calm after the storm, but the 15th edition of MIPCOM was a relatively low-key affair this fall, as the major non-fiction companies focused on steady growth and maintenance rather than the flurry of major announcements unleashed at the Palais in the last few years.
Which is not to say the market wasn’t busy. Reed Midem says attendance was up 1.3%, meaning a total of 10,428 participants filling the Palais and the myriad of over-flow tents. (The Palais expansion was showcased at the opening night party, as Latin dancers in pasties encircled a DJ in the cavernous new facility. ‘Looks like a roller rink,’ commented one party-goer.)
The one overriding theme of the market was a general unease and/or excitement about the practicalities of convergence, now that the market is technologically closer to the eventuality. Whereas most sessions on the topic had seemed futuristic in the past, the critical mass of participants has been reached, leaving all sectors of the market – broadcasters, distributors and producers – wondering how their core business will change.
Of course, this was the last market to trot out millennium-themed projects, and they were feted in due course. One of the most elaborate projects was 2000 Today, a behemoth collaboration led by the BBC and WGBH, scheduled to air on 55 international broadcasters as of MIPCOM. The event (because to call it a project just does not seem grand enough) will begin airing at approximately 10:00 a.m. GMT on Friday, December 31 and will continue transmission for 27 hours, featuring live feeds from, literally, all over the world as the cameras follow the sun. Every midnight will be featured across the time zones, as will the most ‘significant’ sunsets – not to mention some brand name music talent to bring in the youth demo. 2000 Today will involve the largest deployment of BBC staff and equipment in the pubcaster’s history. At a luncheon thrown during MIP by participant TF1, all guests received a rock engraved with the 2000 Today logo. (It is predicted that a ton of said rocks were later retrieved from the hedges around The Carlton.)
Similarly, Millennium Television Network of California was in Cannes talking up its own 24-hour, interactive ‘global convergence’ television broadcast. Exec producer Hal Uplinger (former exec producer of Live Aid) is behind the event, which will feature Sting, Phil Collins, and the Spice Girls, among many others. Uplinger says the event, which will have its control center in L.A., is being completely funded by New York-based investment firm CNB Capital. Millennium Live will begin at the Pacific Dateline in Fiji and travel west as the clock strikes midnight in 24 time zones. Broadcast partners include PAX TV (U.S.), SAT 1, SABC, ZeeTV (India), VIBE TV (Japan), and CityTV in Canada.
National Geographic Television was relatively low-profile at MIPCOM, but president Sandy McGovern, speaking at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival one week prior, had committed to a U.S. launch in the fourth quarter of 2000. Meanwhile, Nick Durrie, head of Nat Geo’s program enterprise group, was talking about a new, ‘more realistic’ relationship with Carlton. In 1998, Carlton Television and Nat Geo announced a wide-ranging joint venture that would lead to the production of 300 hours over 3 years from a $30 million development pot supplied by both companies. Calling that original announcement ‘over-reported’ he said a more practical figure is 10 – 12 hours a year, more in line with the volume the partners are doing now.
Meanwhile, while the TV pull of big cats remains unchallenged, little dogs were much in evidence up and down the Croisette. While London’s Chatworth Television Distributors were talking up a series called Dogs of War (the company is working with Lamancha on the project), Montreal’s Cineflix hosted a ‘live off-shore water rescue dog demonstration’ in support of its 13 x 30 minute series Dogs With Jobs. Over in the quay, the launch of the new Yorkshire/Associated Producers production entity YAP was feted with a bevy of dancing dogs. One unfortunate poodle lost his/her/its footing and bounced off the small stage, much to the dismay of PETA card-carriers in the audience. (Some of the footage may very well end up on The Planet’s Funniest Animals, 26 x 30-minutes from Brad Lachman being sold by Unapix.)
Output deals are as popular as ever, judging by the raft of announcements at the market. Hamburg-based distrib Igel Media purchased a major package of wildlife films from ITEL. The 16-film/16-hour deal features four films from Partridge Films, 11 from Survival and one hour from Spanish production house Bitis.
The 12-year agreement, which covers the German-language territories, sees four films ready for delivery, with three more scheduled for the end of the year and the remainder to be delivered in 2000/01. The two companies have also signed a first-look agreement (again, covering the German-language territories) for all new wildlife programming acquired by ITEL for the year 2000.
Manfred Keil, Igel’s head of docs, says negotiations on a number of other high-profile documentary projects are ‘at an advanced stage.’
Target Distribution in London secured a first-look deal with New Zealand’s TVNZ for the distrib’s entire drama, comedy and factual slate over the next three years. TVNZ committed to buying from Target’s catalog on a first-look basis for its two major channels, TV1 and TV2. Already confirmed as part of the deal are two Lion TV docs, Dog Whisperer (again with the dogs. . . ) and Family Life. Target also picked up 200 hours of programming from Sky One, including Naked in Westminster from Pacific, and a number of formatable docu-soaps. The agreement will run until the end of 2000, at which time it is expected that Target will become the preferred distributor for all Sky One commissions.
E! Entertainment inked an extensive output agreement with CHUM Television in Canada, with over 25 hours of E! programming to air each month on CHUM’s new cable network Star! The deal includes E! brands like Talk Soup, Mysteries and Scandals, and The E! True Hollywood Story. E! also debuted two new series at the market; Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic, a design show which airs on style., and Search Party, a travel/game show series which teams celebs and regular joes to meet outrageous challenges on the beaches of the world.
Granada Media signed a three-year output deal with Holland free-TV channel HMG, including the popular docu-soaps Airline and Pleasure Island, four titles from the . . . From Hell franchise, and Malcolm and Barbara – A Love Story.
Still with distributors, while Channel 4 International continued its aggressive expansion strategy with the launch of a $24 million development and production fund, it was unclear how much of the material tapped would be non-fiction. The main push at MIPCOM was the four-part drama series Anna Karenina.
On the Discovery front, the net-caster was talking up Discovery Online Network, a slate of customized regional networks to roll-out in 2000 across Europe, Latin America and Asia. Online nets planned include Discovery Channel and Home & Leisure sites for the U.K., Discovery Channel and Discovery Kids sites for Latin America in Spanish and Portugese, and Discovery Channel sites in Japanese, English and two forms of Chinese for Asia. An expansion of its online presence in Germany is also in the works.
The Internet offering will feature core material developed at the global level, and localized content to reflect regional events, trends and language. The sites will bring in revenue via a mix of advertising, sponsorship and e-commerce. According to Michela English, president of Discovery Enterprises Worldwide, the move is an attempt to ‘extending the Discovery experience across multiple distribution platforms.’
Discovery was also talking up three new Brazilian coproductions to air on Discovery Networks, Latin America/Iberia around April 22, 2000 – the anniversary of the discovery of Brazil. Two of the deals came out of last February’s Latin American Producer Workshop.
Produced with Sao Paulo’s Grifa Cinematografica, the first project is Langsdorff Expedition, a film that retraces the entire Langsdorff expedition of 1821-1829. The other two projects – The Brazilians and Oscar Niemeyer – are being produced with Polo de Imagem of Sao Paulo. The Brazilians examines different cultures which have come together to form the social fabric of Brazil, and Oscar Niemeyer (which is being produced in association with Wajnbrosse Productions of Brussels and Panic Productions in Paris) is a biography of the prolific Brazilian architect.
As a sidenote, Discovery also announced that it will be splitting its Discovery Channel UK and Northern Europe feeds as of January 31, enabling the channel to localize scheduling, ad breaks and promotional slots.
In a case of a project which sounds more like The History Channel than Discovery, Regina, Canada-based Partners in Motion announced a deal to produce a one-hour doc on the Kent State crisis for TLC. Kent State: The Day The War Came Home is a coproduction between Partners in Motion and Santa Monica-based Single Spark Pictures. The Canadian window is History Television. Partners in Motion also announced that it had purchased controlling interest in Canadian distrib Compass International.
Over at the back of the Palais, Armando Nunez Jr., president of CBS Broadcast International, was spreading the word that CBI is actively seeking overseas partners who want to launch new channels using CBS News programming. CBS is looking to create assets in areas where it has only been a seller up to now. Nunez, who joined CBS this summer from Universal International Television, hopes his company can provide blocks of programming that, when combined with local material, could create whole new news or non-fiction channels.
Scripps Networks – including Home & Garden Television, Food Network and the new digital Do It Yourself Network – had a nifty new stand on the show floor, and Kristen Jordan, VP of international development, said business was brisk. With its channels climbing in the ratings both in the U.S. and Canada, Jordan hopes to license a significant amount of programming to a Middle Eastern partner in the not-so-distant future.
Interest in health programming shows no sign of waning, as more and more Baby Boomers start worrying about their tickers. U.K.-based Health of the Nation is a doc prodco launched at MIPCOM by HOT-Nation, a producer of ‘nutraceutical’ products such as non-toxic Viagra and non-toxic Prozac. (You can find them on the web at www.hotnation.channelhealth.net)