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Animation Climate Brightens at MIPCOM 2006

What was the outlook now for animation as buyers and sellers emerge from trying times at the world's most important TV sales market in Cannes? Take a look as nine-year mart vet, Sarah Baisley, shares observations, some personal asides and news from MIPCOM Jr. and MIPCOM 2006.

Buena Vista TV Int'l (Disney/Jetix) placed loads of advertising outside the hotels on the Croisettte.

Cannes lived up to its reputation for wonderful weather during MIPCOM Jr. and MIPCOM markets at the oceanside resort Oct. 7-13, 2006, which seemed to be reflected in a brighter climate for the animation television business as well. Travel fears stemming from 9/11, wars and Asian flu had dissipated. Gone were the thundering rains of a year ago that caused part of the Riviera Hall roof to collapse on some exhibitors, destroying their booths and meeting schedules. Indicators were clear, early on, there were many more serious buyers afoot. Even buyers from the U.S. were back, a group who had been noticeably buying little. Slots had come open and monies had been allocated. Pre-school needs had subsided; the buzz was for short-form and comedy, especially for boys, programming. Many were scratching their heads, knowing they needed to deal with mobile content, but not quite sure yet what to do.

The Reed Midem people, organizers of the audiovisual content market, reported the highest-ever number of participants with 12,509 delegates, representing a seven percent increase on 2005. The 22nd edition of MIPCOM also reached a new record on participating companies, with 4,216 from 98 countries attending, up from the 3,896 companies present last year. (For history buffs, the first MIPCOM in 1985 had 2,503 attended with 802 companies from 73 countries.) The number also bore out the comments on buyers as 3,847 acquisition heads attended Cannes, compared to 3,504 in 2005.

Laura Kilpatrick, sales exec, and Deirdre Barry, vp sales & acquisitions, for Monster Distributes! show their Irish pride as they perch on stools in tightly packed Carlton Bar during MIPCOM Jr.

Strangely enough, it didn't look like there were more people.

The new exhibit areas opened up could explain this, so now the companies had spread out into, new bigger, booths in different locations. A great deal of time was spent consulting the maps and info booths because nearly everyone had moved from their typical space. Many of us had gotten so accustomed to visiting companies in the same spot that you didn't even look down at the schedule for the booth number.

Many had more room and better flow in their areas while some were adapting to their unfamiliar layouts and condensed spaces, such as the folks from Warner Bros. Animation, Cartoon Network and The CW (Kids' WB!). As Sander Schwartz, president of WBA briefed me on the new programming initiatives for Scooby-Doo, I realized I was in a valuable spot that most producers would have given away rights to their first creation to be in. Seated at a café table, I was literally within a few feet of Betsy McGowen, svp/gm of Kids' WB! and Finn Arnesen, svp/gm for Original Animation EMEA and TBS International Development.

Then, of course, people were moving from one company to another and companies were acquired and changed their name.

Michael Heyward (left) and his father, Andy Heyward, after a DIC Ent. 25th Anniversary party/presentation.

Yoram Gross-EM.TV (Australia/Germany) was renamed Flying Bark Prods. Following the acquisition of the remaining 50% of Yoram Gross-EM.TV by EM.Ent. GmbH at the beginning of the year, the company is now being re-branded and re-structured with the new "Flying Bark" identity. The primary divisions of Flying Bark Prods. include Greenpatch Prods., Forest Interactive and Trackdown.

Sticky Picture's Tim Brooke-Hunt (Australia) joined forces with Top Draw's Wayne Dearing (The Philippines) to launch Mango Distribution, a distributor of TV and new media projects and an agent for merchandising, interactive and publishing rights throughout Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Mango also participates in animated doc-productions between Top Draw and Sticky Pictures and international partners. One of these is Pearlie, based upon the booked written by Wendy Harmer, the 52x12 series was unveiled at MIPCOM as a co-pro with Nelvana.

Speaking of moving, MIPCOM Jr., which had been located at the Noga Hilton the past two years, was now at the Carlton. This placed it even farther from the MIPCOM location, which participants frequently need to go to as well as the pressroom. There was less, free meeting areas and most did not like the change.

Budgets were up and exhibitors were more spread out, but marketing dollars were thinner compared to previous gatherings, even compared to MIP-TV, the market in the spring, which focuses more on documentaries and live action. There were more animation events, parties, display ads and press announcements in April then at this market that concentrates more on childrens programming, where most participants and press seem to pigeonhole animation. The amount of requests for interviews, press releases and party invites were so dramatically off, some of us in the press wondering if something was wrong with our email and snail mail addresses. But this was verified by the publicists at Blueprint PR, one of the pr firms that specialize in animation. They said their clients had decided to spread their news out throughout the year and had not held things for market release.

Calon md Robin Lyons (left) commercial director Huw Walters and director Lynne Stockford were delighted with the Calon standings in the MIPCOM Jr. screenings.

Buena Vista TV Int'l (Disney and Jetix) had the biggest advertising splash with loads of signage in front of the hotels, yet oddly, did not hold special press screenings and luncheons animation press have attended that had come to feel like a tradition.

Fortunately DIC founder/chairman Andy Heyward kicked up some of the marketing schmaltz, celebrating the 25th anniversary of DIC Ent. with a big dinner party at the Carlton Hotel the last night of MIPCOM Jr. and leading off into the regular mart. While happy to see his business family and friends like Margaret Loesch, now ceo of The Hatchery Llc., he seemed tickled to see his son Michael put the Slumber Party Girls (wraparound hosts of the "KOL's Secret Slumber Party on CBS") through their paces in a live presentation/show the younger Heyward had produced.

Marc du Pontavice, founder/president of Xilam, and the first French producer to sell an animated series to the U.S. is enjoying great success with his Flash-animated series. Not only does he enjoy the greater production control with the method, that allows more production to stay in-house, it can be adapted easier for mobile and Internet. Pontavice still doesn't see much call for adult animation because there are far less adult channels in Europe and programmers equate adult with trashy programs.

"But you know," he said, "it's harder to work for a kid than in prime time. A kid is more demanding, more particular."

Aardman's Shaun the Sheep (U.K.) topped the list of the most requested series at the MIPCOM jr. a new finisher in the Jr. race was Ettamogah Ent. Groups' Amy's Gang (Australia) in second place while BRB Internactional came in third for Angus and Cheryl (Spain). In fourth place was 4Kids Ent. for its Chaotic (USA) and in fifth was Cake Ent. Ltd.'s Skunk Fu! (U.K.).

Marathon's Monster Buster Club (France) came in sixth while Nelvana Ltd.'s Grossology (Canada) Ep. 3 "Fartzilla" was seventh. Another newcomer, Caoz Ltd. (Programme MEDIA), was eighth with Anna and the Moods (Finland, distributed by Monster Distributes). In ninth was Sparkling's Bugged (France) and in 10th was 9 Story Ent.'s Best Ed (Canada).

Foothill founders Gregory Payne and Jo Kavanaugh Payne make do with borrowed items and quick finds after their luggage and materials were destroyed in an apartment fire.

Caoz also came in 11th for its Anna Young, 9 Story had another in the top 30 for its Futz! as did 4Kids for Viva Pinata. Bunea Vista Int'l TV had three finishers (Yin Yang Yo!, Hannah Montana, American Dragon) in the top 30 out of 937 programs presented.

Tafty Ent. had two in the top 30 (Growing Up Creepie, Fantastic Four) as did Calon Ltd. for Hana's Helpline and Bib Tattie.

The number of programs presented this year was 937, up from 839 last year. New programs presented added up to 562, 100 up from last year. The total number of screenings on site was 42,848, up from 39, 134 from 2005's event. Total registered companies was 529, countries 53, total buyers arrived, 460 and total sellers arrived was 315 for a total of 829 participants checked in.

The Calon people (a producers group in Wales led by Robin Lyons,) were thrilled to have two shows in the top 30, especially since Bib Tattie had been a last-minute addition to the entries, one they said the tossed in for the heck of it.

Those exhibiting in the Rivera no longer hand to worry about the roof collapsing upon them, but physical hardships still struck some, such as Gregory Payne and Jo Kavanaugh-Payne, heads of Foothill Ent. At the start of the market, they returned to their apartment after dinner to find the unit had been set ablaze by a malfunctioning wall socket. What the flames didn't get the smoke and water damage completely destroyed. In addition to their clothes, this meant all their sales & marketing materials.

Gregory said he just wanted to go home right away, but, with encouragement and a few borrowed clothes from colleagues, they hunkered down and abided by show people's traditional adage -- the show must go on. The volume and quality of their meetings and interest in their properties helped, at times, subside their distress.

One of the fastest discoveries to make it to market was The Owl, launched at the TV-Loonland booth, as its producers, Josselin Charier (left) and Antonine Rodelet from Studio Hari, toast their success.

Though it wasn't bad enough that many MIP participants had to severely limit their carry-on items for flights with the new airline rules, forcing many to check more baggage, the baggage people were more dependent upon was lost.

Braving the market without her suitcase was Joan Vogelesang, president/ceo of Toom Boom, who was quite striking as she colorfully crossed the Crosiette in front of the Majestic Hotel in a beautiful, long flowing skirt ensemble that was about all she could find amongst the resort area shops, which typically do not cater to those seeking business attire. The improvised look suited her well, though she always looks good in her typically well-tailored suits. But she, like most hyper-booked attendees, has little time to shop, so airline reimbursement does little to allay the loss.

Perhaps one of the fastest discoveries to make it to market was The Owl, at the TV-Loonland booth (Germany/U.K.). TV-Loonland's then head of creative affairs and development Kourtney Kaye (she now is with the newly formed Radar Cartoons) discovered it at Annecy this year. The 52x1 CGI-animated series is being produced by Studio Hari in Paris. Simon Flamank, ceo of TV-Loonland (he was a surprise announcement at the start of MIP-TV in April) is overseeing a recent cash injection for the company to find and present new programming and projects.

While programming at this market still seemed to have lots of dragons in the offering, themes that moved to the forefront amongst new shows often featured monsters or cows. Perhaps a surefire hit would star a comedic monster cow with a dragon intestinal.

For detailed reports on properties offered at MIPCOM Jr. and MIPCOM, please check out the special editions of AWN's MIPCOM Flash.

Sarah Baisley is editor in chief of Animation World Network.