Enjoy the champagne and salade nicoise while you can

Ah, well. Time for MIP-TV again. This spring, though, a few smiles will be missing. Most obviously, those of Disney's Buena Vista and of Columbia. What with NATPE and the L.A. Screenings, the big kids feel they can do all their...
March 1, 1999

Ah, well. Time for MIP-TV again. This spring, though, a few smiles will be missing. Most obviously, those of Disney’s Buena Vista and of Columbia. What with NATPE and the L.A. Screenings, the big kids feel they can do all their work without leaving Liberty’s shores. If this goes on there’s a serious risk the goody-bag may soon be empty of gee-gaws.

But what if it’s a smokescreen? Would these big, effective companies ever disclose their true reasons for staying away. Would they? They know something we don’t. Probably as the result of conspiracy at the highest level to boost U.S. cultural imperialism. Damned smart, eh? They dominate the world by staying at home. Typical Yankee guile. So that’s Item One.

Item Two, your honor. There’s anecdotal evidence (I write as a former war correspondent who has a nose for these things, so trust me) that there are going to be other, less obvious gaps in the ranks at MIP-TV. Smaller companies who feel, on balance, that due to other pressures they might just give it a miss this year. Me? I like the town, the food and the people so I’ll probably be there as usual. But I can see the future, and for those of us who like networking outside the Petit Carlton at two in the morning, it doesn’t look good.

Put simply: how much longer will we need actual markets? Sure, they have plus and minus points but they seem to do business. Latest reports suggest that last year the total contribution of the world’s television markets was squillions and squillions in whatever currency you care to name. (Impressive things, these statistics, and so easy to use.) Also, and more importantly, everyone has a very nice time at markets.

Unfortunately, some dunderheads have gone and developed a different way of working. We’re talking about the Internet here, of course, and the web. Yes, its time for Virtual Markets. You don’t have to go to distant places, or meet people, or have big lunches, or be away from your wonderful colleagues. The market comes to you, on your desk-top. Actually, it could come to you on your bed-top, or your golf-top or even your beach-top because due to a foul-up in the Techno-Repression Planning Unit, video-phones aren’t quite ready yet. So there’s a window of opportunity for free spirits: you can be anywhere and get away with it.

Strangely, the one place you probably won’t be while participating in Virtual Markets is Cannes. The accounts department will see to that. So don’t you dare tell the suits about pioneer Virtual Markets like or

And real, live, big-lunch markets are also great places to see people and obtain information about the documentary industry, right? Quite, so don’t tell the suits about or either because between them these two sites will tell you more about the docs business in minutes than you’ll ever pick up schmoozing on the terrace. Might as well stay at home in smoky Little-lunchville and go digital with your digits.

This is not an advertisement for the future. I’ve made enough science films (Yeah, that too. Cool, huh?) to know the future is always further away than you imagine. The trick is not to die before it arrives, so that you can get some satisfaction from being right, even though your timing was wrong. Such satisfaction is some small compensation for a life of poverty and misery, the result of being right at the wrong time.

Based on this experience, I would never be so bold as to state that within five years the huge majority of television buying, selling and probably delivery and exchange of programming will happen through the web. On the other hand, me and my friend Nostradamus are pretty solid on this one and, as he comes from near Cannes, he feels quite strongly about it.

So here’s the prediction. On April 1, 2004, you will experience a moment of epiphany. ‘Gosh,’ you’ll email to a colleague as he tries to block the video camera with something meshy, a futile attempt to hide the fact that he’s visiting a bar in one of Little-lunchville’s sleazier quartiers. ‘Gosh,’ you’ll repeat in an attempt at that cheery, Dick-van-Dyke, Cockney banter which against all the odds seems to have become the universal form of English. ‘Remember that odd bloke five years ago who wrote in that magazine that the web would replace television markets within five years. Said there’d be no more big lunches and that the Palais des Festivals at Cannes would be turned into a Murdoch Murderdrome.’ ‘No, he didn’t,’ comes the reply. ‘The geezer never said nuffin’ about the Murdoch Murderdrome. Shows how much he knew, innit?’ Make a note of it.

So why five years, why not next month? Two reasons. First, most people have five fingers per hand, so in the prediction game it’s an easy number to remember. To be doubly sure, you can pull off a finger on each anniversary. Then, when you can’t pick up a nice cup of tea any more, you know its time for the prediction to have come to pass.

Secondly, the technology isn’t quite there yet, as they say. Pay a visit to MIP-Interactive or TV Fame and you’ll see that the current quality of moving images on the web is only slightly better than a fire’s shadow dancing on the walls of a cave. Infinitely cooler, of course, but no better in the image definition department. Then there’s the waiting time for downloads, the information that you lack the one crucial plug-in that is this week’s standard, or the frank admission that you are too dim to understand the technology. Hey! It’s your fault the thing doesn’t work.

But in time (within five years, like I said) these problems will be solved. They are solved with complicated words, and here are a few of them: high-speed cable modems, wide-bandwidth connections (a.k.a. big pipes), adsl, diminishing cost/memory ratio. In addition, dim people will have been made redundant (or retrained as lawyers), so everyone in this business will be here specifically because they do understand working on the web, etc. Web-literacy will be a key requirement of the job, just as eating and drinking a lot without falling over was essential for previous generations.

I tried out some of these thoughts last night at a reception in London for the launch of Nick Fraser and T. Celal’s new series about European Neo-Nazis, for the BBC and ARTE. The general view seemed to be that most people liked markets, so they would continue. Well, excuse me. Most people like happiness and The Beatles but there hasn’t been a lot of either around for quite a time. Nobody likes mass unemployment in Europe, nasty wars in the Balkans and racism and sexism in its myriad forms but we get all of those.

Likewise Virtual Markets. You don’t vote for them, they just creep up on you. And then the penny drops and a finger of fear touches your heart. ‘If we don’t need actual markets, then we don’t need broadcasters either,’ you mutter. ‘Audiences can get the programs direct from the producers, down the wire. And there’s no role for distributors either. In fact, all the middle-men between filmmakers and the audience are redundant.’

Don’t worry. We’ve still got five years to retrain and I hear there may be some vacancies at the Cannes Murderdrome. Come on, Nostradamus, me old mucker. Let’s off down the pub for a swift half.

John Marshall is chief executive of international media consultancy JMA, which operates the free service at //

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