What were animation people really talking about at the worlds most important TV sales market in Cannes? Take an intimate look as six-year mart vet, Sarah Baisley, shares observations, gossip and news from MIPCOM Jr. and MIPCOM 2003.
As the plane touched down in London on the first leg of the journey to MIPCOM Jr. and MIPCOM, I wondered what, if any would be the big breaking news as thousands of TV buyers, distributors and producers face their Mecca for TV decision-making. Its at this market, held Oct. 7-15, 2003 in Cannes, that TV industry professionals determine what will be seen on broadcast channels around the world now and in the next few seasons to come, as a small troupe of seasoned journalists observe, record and report the pros actions and try to sniff out the trends.
Was the market recovering from 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, SARs scares, merger madness, depressed advertising revenues and falling licensing fees? Would reality shows and live kids shows still reign over animation as it had the past couple years? Where had familiar faces moved on to, who had become the leading players and who were the new ones to get to know. And, most importantly, what color would kids TV exec Joan Lofts hair be?
It seemed the most important breaking animation news sprung just before the mart was that the revved up French Antefilms had purchased its much older and established competitor, France Animation. Surely that would be a hot topic of discussion to start with, sprinkled with speculation over what Haim Saban might be up to with his takeover of German broadcaster ProSiebenSat1.
Wrong. The tone and topic came over the planes loudspeaker as the pilot told the passengers arriving on the 12-hour flight from Los Angeles that movie star/muscle builder Arnold Schwarzenegger had been elected governor of California! There was an audible grown, followed by snickers, and I sank into my seat, wishing it just been a dream. For the next few days, I and other Americans, especially Californians, were subjected to a raft of teasing, prodding and, at times, displays of incredulous disbelief from airline ticket takers, taxi drivers, restaurant and hotel personnel, as well as from MIPCOM attendees, exhibitors and international press.
Arriving a bit late to the annual Super RTL annual MIPCOM dinner for studio chiefs and press the first night, I was pressed with questions and comments about the California election. Its a bit odd to have the tables turned; normally the reporter does the digging. Actually, people across the continent, in the U.K. and Ireland paid much closer attention to this election of a European native. Schwarzenegger, born in Austria, dominated German television for two days.
Nearly every business meeting, at least for this Californian, started with probes about the governator, and it certainly was hotly debated by some Americans around the Martinez Hotel bar and pool terrace, which is always the hotbed of MIPCOM Jr. and evening MIPCOM action. I wonder if my predecessors got this much grief about Reagan, after his state or national elections, from those engaged in a business dependent to a good extent upon actors. If actors are vital to and help drive an industry, are they any less viable for pubic service?
It was a good give-and-take at the dinner. Many were speculating on when, not if, former Nelvana heads Michael Hirsh and Toper Taylor would be buying CINAR, (which became official on Oct. 30 when they and TD Capital Canadian Private Equity Partners signed a definitive agreement Oct. 30, 2003 to purchase the Canadian company for $143.9 million in cash). Thanks to dinner chat, AWN first broke the news that Linda Simensky would be departing Cartoon Network to join PBS to oversee kids programming and development.
Super RTL md Claude Schmit and Susanne Schosser, program director, had plenty of good ratings and results to report from the past and upcoming season. She told me anime is becoming increasingly more dominant in kids programming (a look around the Palais later certainly bore this out), but, except for a few shows, she thinks the rest looks awful. Clearly this leading buyer is not a fan of the onslaught of cheap series from Japan or the anime-inspired, wannabes coming from the U.S., U.K. France and Italy.
News was also good for the two-day conference at the Martinez Hotel. With growing numbers of buyers, sellers and programs, MIPCOM Jr. 2003s screenings (Oct. 8 9) broke all viewing records since the shows launch in 1996. A total of 13,815 individual screenings were carried out by program buyers, a 15% increase compared with 12,052 in 2002. Previously, the highest number of screenings took place at MIPCOM Jr. 2000 with 12,572 viewings. Sellers presented 738 programs this year (695 last year, +6%) including 339 titles presented for the first time ever (319 last year, +6%). 704 participants attended the event (685 last year, +2.77%).
Alphanims Creepschool ended up on top. The animated series, which the French studio produced with German EM.TV and Happy Life Animation (Sweden), was the most screened show by broadcasters from around the world. Los Angeles-based Porchlight Entertainments Tutenstein came in a close second. My Goldfish is Evil from Sardine Prods. in Canada finished in third place.
Funny thing is that neither Alphanim nor Porchlight knew about placing in the top two until I congratulated them at their booths during MIPCOM. Alphanims director of distribution and co-productions, Julie Fox, received her many pages of screenings reports, but nothing said her company had the top screened program.
Alphanims Hairy Scary also made seventh place and Porchlights Four Eyes was near the top of the pack in 11th place. Futurikon (France), DECODE (Canada) and Icon Animation (Spain) also had two shows, each ranked in the top 30 amongst 738 programs screened. Registered companies rose from 364 the previous year to 383 in 2003, with increases in seller and buyer companies at this MIPCOM Jr. U.S. attendance grew by 41.3% with 65 companies, Canada by 31% with 38 studios and Germany by 25% with 30 companies.
While buyers were busy inside the viewing booths, the Reed MIDEM organizers put together a licensing component, its Junior Licensing Club, where a small group of licensing specialists took presentation booths with tables and chairs, which was open to all delegates. In conjunction with the licensing theme, the industry panels featuring licensing, merchandising and branding experts instead of the usual pitch-me sessions, case studies or issues facing kids TV industry pros.
This new emphasis demonstrated what an increasingly important part of the kids TV business that licensing/merchandising has become. In fact, that would be a rallying call of many producer/distributors for the rest of the week, who found it necessary to start up licensing divisions or components to their companies. Many were going on to the Brand Licensing London show October 28-29 and busy finaling plans for the American International Toy Fair in New York City February 15-18 and the Licensing 2004 International show, also in the Big Apple, June 8-10.
One of the Licensing Club exhibitors, Myriam Diaz, director of international for GoodTimes Entertainment, told me that her company hadnt really been given enough time (four weeks) to prepare all the marketing for the new opportunity. The company, which distributes much of its home video product through Blockbuster and Wal*Mart has a beautiful line of collectibles fine china figurines, as well as toys, plush and other goods for its shows. Diaz said she thought the MIPCOM Jr. participants were too used to the usual environment of screening tapes and catching up in the hotel gathering spots to make the club a must.
Nevertheless, she believes the potential of the Club is there. She and Pamela Ferris, vp of licensing and consumer products for GoodTimes had some good inquiries and met some new people at the Licensing Club to follow up with. She said the Reed MIDEM people were open and heedful of her suggestions, such as offering a package deal for the club with the screenings in the future. They already acted on one of her ideas, to move the morning breakfast and happy hour reception into the Club to drive up awareness and exposure to the exhibitors.
Making a bunch of show deal announcements has become less prevalent at this market, as well as at NATPE in January and MIP-TV in March. Sales teams have found it increasingly important to visit buyers in their own territories throughout the year to make deals. The markets have become more the place to launch a project, create a buzz, check out the competition, market and entertain plus find new projects and partners. Many are gathering multiple offers to take back to the home office to strategize over and determine which is the best deal. There is less of a rush to make announcements for the sake of showing activity as it is with film markets such as MIFED. Some are just plain too busy making deals to get the word out about them (such as Axel Carrere, development manager for Carrere Group in France), and cant find the time to brief pr reps to get the word out.
Others, like Laura Tapias, sales manager from DOcon in Spain, were bursting to share the news of a big negotiation, but have learned to wait until the lawyers and business affairs people have ironed out the final details and wont be rushed for the sake of breaking some news.
The show did start with CINAR sales announcements including a new deal with Irish pubcaster RTE in Ireland for three seasons (52 half-hours) of Mona the Vampire as well as sales of a fourth Mona season to the BBC (U.K.), ZDF (Germany), Mediaset (Italy), YTV (Canada), SRC (Canada) and TV3 (New Zealand). Mona is produced with Alphanim (France) and Agogo (Hong Kong). CINARs award-winning Arthur series was picked up for a ninth season by the BBC, ABC (Australia), CBC (Canada), TV Ontario (Canada), TVE (Spain) and RTP (Portugal).
Fellow Canadian animation house Studio B Prods. started the market with a sale to LUK Internacional (for broadcast throughout Spain, Andorra and Portugal) of its Flash animated series, Being Ian, designed by legendary animator Marv Newland, now in production for Canadas YTV. Studio B also landed a deal with TELETOON (Canada) for Class of the Titans, another original Studio B property. This 26x22 minute action comedy series will be produced in 2D, and is aimed at kids 8-12. The television series springs the lock on a legion of mythical monsters and forces Zeus to train the modern day descendents of Greek heroes.
Marketing was definitely at a lower key. There were far fewer show banners and billboards lining the croisette, the street and beach walk, stretching to and from the Palais and the Martinez. Periodicals werent quite as thick with advertising pages.
The practice of some companies sponsoring the lunches across from the Martinez, and perhaps a dinner for MIPCOM Jr. attendees, has ground to a halt. These had been good opportunities for companies, such as Nelvana (now part of Corus), to share its message and connect with all attendees and gave participants a chance to meet new contacts in the light, with nice visible badges. Youre less likely to connect with many of these people in the smoky, darkened hotel bar and lounge at night when its no longer cool to display at badge. True, these meals must have been expensive for the sponsoring companies but they somewhat fostered a sense of community, and often made it easier to find people or get an idea of who else is there that may have escaped your research.
DIC Entertainment held a broadcaster/press dinner to promote its slate and drum up excitement for its new enterprise with comic book creator, extraordinaire Stan Lee, who was on hand to talk up his new Stan Lees The Secret Of The Super Six with his usual flair and graciously signed many autographs.
However, Paris-based Marathon flexed some really big marketing muscle, sponsoring the official market tote bag with a Martin Mystery theme for MIPCOM Jr. and MIPCOM. Vincent Chalvon-Demersay, Marathons director general, said one of the bag sponsors dropped out and they were offered an excellent discount to fund the second bag. In another big splash, Marathon co-sponsored with Reed MIDEM the MIPCOM opening night party for all participants, which featured a live fashion show in a multi-tented area on the beach in front of the Carlton Hotel.
Marathon also joined forces with Canal J to present industry guests and press a special screening party with loads of giveaways for its Martin Mystery (65x30) prior to its premiere Oct. 23 on the French broadcaster. The show, created by Chalvon-Demersay and David Michel and directed by Stéphane Berry follows Martin and Diana: two mismatched teenagers with opposite personalities on a mission to investigate the weirdest paranormal enigmas and the slimiest creatures from beyond. Marathon is co-producing the series with M6 (France) and RAI (Italy).
For the most part, the weather was lovely, as the threat of rain held off throughout the run of the show. Theres nothing worse than slogging through the streets in your business clothes trying to keep important papers and shoes dry.
While rain wasnt a threat, many attendees ended up getting their feet soaked in the pool area at the Martinez Hotel. Decorative but dangerous, there are little shallow, cutouts which run off the main pool, strategically placed in main passages. The hotel failed to rope off or place any barriers in front of these roughly half-foot deep troughs.
That debonair but cheeky Jonathan Peel, ceo of Millimages U.K., took great delight, stretched decadently out on a deck lounge during an interview with me, watching people who were so focused to greet people that they failed to look down at their feet, thereby plopping into the watery obstacle. Chivalry prevailed at last when he spotted BBCs Thersea Plummer-Andrews, one of the top commissioning broadcasters of all-time, and stopped her from the inadvertent baptism.
For a recap of the extensive announcements and details about shows offered at MIPCOM Jr. and MIPCOM, please check out AWNs new four-issue series of special Animation Flash MIPCOM 2003 newsletters. Each of these four issues contains only pertinent MIPCOM animation-related news, covering more than 50 companies.
MIPCOM Flash Issue 1
Sarah Baisley is the editor of Animation World Network.