Over the past five years I’ve had the great good fortune to spend this week in the south of France, attending the annual international TV marketplace known as MIPCOM. I’ve truly valued that perspective, occasionally through the good graces of Canadian government agencies, on the rapidly changing business of worldwide content marketing. Also, the view from the Villa Francia overlooking the Mediterranean? Pretty damn sweet.
This year, however, there was little incentive for a freelance writer to cross the ocean and head for Cannes. A few TV executives I ran into during the Toronto International Film Festival in early September surprised me by saying they were sitting this trade show out. A couple of the major studios would not be taking part, they argued, pointing to Fox, now gobbled up by Disney, and Sony, which regularly greeted clients in one of the larger and swankier outside pavilions by the marina. Others, such as CBS International, as well as the usual suspects on the publicity front, did not seem to be bringing in as many stars or showrunners for croissant-grabbers such as I to interview.
Last year at MIPCOM, I was grateful to get a seat next to Italy, France, Germany, Australia and others as we quizzed Ben Stiller about directing Escape at Dannemora. The year before, a one-on-one with Kiefer Sutherland led to a wonderful conversation as well as a profitable peddle.
The business of television, however, is changing worldwide. Companies who have been renting pricey yachts to schmooze with up to 120 thirsty clients in a three day sales orgy are starting to realize: hey, we already nailed this deal down over the phone last month; or, we’ll see these folks soon on a North American dime at NATPE. Others have sold the boat and some even the business, squeezed out not just by Netflix but by the 37 OTT services now open for business. (Yes, 37.)
There was an ominous harbinger of things going sideways a few years ago when a freak flood knocked the power out during MIPCOM. This was much more serious than a derailed business trip; people died. The power, it would seem, has also never fully returned.
Thanks to editor-in-chief Dom Serafini, I did manage to sell a few stories about Canadian players at the trade show to VideoAge International, the industry magazine that stays well on top of these confabs. Other headlines in their MIPCOM coverage tell the hard truth about the current state of the TV biz, including this doozy: “Backend and Residuals are Things of a Linear Past.” Disney, set to launch their formidable streaming service in two weeks, have already been telling content partners that it will be more inclined to do business the Netflix way going forward. In other words, paying more for shows up front and owning the backend. Will this radiate down to acting Guids and others? There’s clearly a lot ahead to unravel.
In the meantime, when your glitzy, glamorous trade show is all about backend and international sales, that’s a hell of a disruptor. Don’t get me wrong; there will still be plenty of money on the table for those who know where to find it. Others, however, may have already moved past any wait and see period. Among the questions they all have to grapple with now is this: why pay premium for a booth in the crowded basement of the palais if the big guys have already folded their tents?