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Weekly Features
Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is the President of Intermat, Inc., a consulting practice that specializes in the intersection of media, technology and marketing. For two years, he produced the Emmys on the Web and supervised web related activities for the Academy, including for the 50th Anniversary year of the Emmy Awards. In addition to its consulting engagements, Intermat recently sold METEOR’S TALE, an unpublished novel by Michael O’Rourke, to Animal Planet for development as a television movie. Visit his web site at

NOTE FROM HAL: Our Mat Tombers continues his series of Exclusive reports filed from MIP TV in Cannes, France.

By Mat Tombers

Embedded at MIP

MIP is the granddaddy of international sales markets. It celebrated its
40th anniversary this year. In front of the Palais de Festival, built, in
part, to house MIP, was a six foot cake and ten thousand plastic champagne
flutes to celebrate the event. An anniversary poster was designed by a
British artist living on Mykonos and the city of Cannes planned to have
fireworks to celebrate the event.

However, at the last moment, the fireworks were cancelled because the city
felt it was inappropriate to have fireworks while a war was waging in Iraq.

And it was the war that put a cloud on MIP as well as the rest of the world.
Whenever I introduced myself to someone from outside the U.S. the same joke
was made: I was one of the five Americans that showed up. Most of the
people who cancelled were Americans. They were followed by the Japanese,
cowed by the combination of war and SARS.

The first day, the Palais seemed as empty as NATPE this year, a party thrown
to which no one had come.

The ones who were hardest hit were people who’d come from New Zealand and
Australia to meet Americans who didn’t show.

On the days following the opening of MIP, a semblance of normality returned
to the market. When the final figures came in, the market was only
officially down by about a thousand people. The number of exhibiting
companies, counting, though, I think the empty booths, was actually up from
the year before. Many Europeans flew in Monday night and left on Wednesday
evening. In and out; quick and clean.

But MIP, like NATPE, is no longer the market that it once was. It will
probably never be what it once was. Television is not the business that it
once was. It is still a healthy business but it is not the robust business
it was a few years ago; certainly it is not the business it was ten or
fifteen years ago. But that THIS market even happened was a statement of
the strength of television as a business that must continue to be fed.

MIP, like NATPE, is suffering from the same set of circumstances that
afflicts the television business everywhere. Consolidation has taken its
toll, the global economy is fragile and its fragility affects the global
advertisers who are splitting their ad dollars across the greater number of
channels that are finding their way into homes on every continent. And, for
the most part, everyone wants to program toward 18 – 34 year olds.

This, a fact I have suspected, was confirmed by Lilliana Lombardero, General
Manager of Beyond Distribution, who is based in London. She also made one
of the wisest observations I have heard about international television; in
most places in the world television is a way to show something; in America
it is a way to sell something.

Christina Denilauler at ZDF Enterprises pointed out that internationally,
just as domestically, there are fewer dollars or euros for production and so
productions are smaller or more intricately financed. This was a common
theme heard over and over again during MIP. Non-fiction programming is
getting as difficult to finance as fiction.

[ZDF, RAI and a couple of other companies are producing Augustus, starring
Peter O’Toole and Charlotte Rampling, as part of the fictional IMPERIUM
series. The war cancelled a boondoggle for press; they were going to fly
some to the set in Tunisia but rethought that when the bombs began to fall
in Baghdad.]

Christina also said the magic word of MIP: FORMATS!

FORMATS! FORMATS! FORMATS! A successful format is the Holy Grail of
production companies from Los Angeles to Moscow to Singapore to Tokyo. The
entire conference murmured the word “format” as a magic money mantra. If
only we can find a “format” our production company will be saved or made!
But the reality, as pointed out by the head of Celador, creator of WHO WANTS
TO BE A MILLIONAIRE?, is that there are only seven or so formats that have
managed to be successful in more than twenty-five countries. MILLIONAIRE is
in 160 plus countries.

Celador’s challenge is not to be a one hit wonder while most companies would
want to have one hit like MILLIONAIRE.

All in all, though, the conference was better attended than people thought
it would be and the business was better than people feared it would be.

The big themes [as in selling] in non-fiction are: the paranormal, history,
docusoaps and mysteries. History keeps going back over the same themes:
Egyptian, Biblical, Greek and Roman. Mummies have continued to sell as well
as they ever have.

Yvonne Body, Head of Co-Production & Acquisitions for Beyond Distribution,
agreed with the strength of history as a strand and agreed that the themes
above have been strong sellers, especially if they’re blue chip projects.

Jimmy Duggan, Head of Documentaries for Ireland’s Tyrone Productions,
justifiably was frustrated by the inability of audiences to grasp other
parts of history. Are there really not enough people on earth interested in
a history of the Mogul Empire to justify a program?

MIP is also diminished because it is fading as a gathering place for
commissioning editors. They’re seeking out their meetings in smaller, more
manageable venues such as Sunny Side of the Doc, HotDocs or Real Screen –
places where it’s not just a market but places where they can learn as well
as be pitched, where they can view as well as listen.

Kaye Warren of the ABC/Australia pointed out that commissioning editors seem
to be coming to MIP only when they need to look for funds for docs they have
commissioned at home but for which they don’t have all the money.

It was, generally, a good market, a market of intense, good business as
pointed out by Christina Willoughby of Chrysalis Distribution.

For Gary Lico and his company, CABLE READY, it was the best MIP ever. The
Asians were busy buying as never before and that boosted the market above
earlier expectations but it was more a market of acquisitions and some
pre-sales than a commissioning market.

Gary also pointed out a fact that has always been true but in a time of
declining business is more true than ever before: relationships are

MIP and MIPCOM have been THE gathering place. It is likely they will
continue to be that kind of place but they will not be as much that kind of
place as they have been. The great, grand days of the television markets
are over – like the business itself, they are becoming fragmented,
specialized and products of consolidation.