A Look Back at MIPCOM `98

by Loris Kramer

Loris Kramer.
Photo courtesy of Sony Wonder.

As I write this, I am still recovering from my week in the South of France. I know it sounds glamorous and while I can think of much worse places to work than the French Riviera, it is still work! After six days of MIP Jr. and MIPCOM meetings, endless French dinners and too many nights at the Martinez bar, the fog is starting to clear and I am happy to say that we had a very successful week. While I heard people saying that this market seemed slower than in the past, from my viewpoint, the children's programming business is alive and well.

I have somewhat of a unique perspective when looking at the market. Not only am I looking for programs to buy, I am also there seeking co-production partners for our projects and looking for other companies' projects in which to invest. This gives me the opportunity to see many of the available programs, both in development and finished, and also to find out what the other buyers are looking for.

The Immediate Future of Animation
Before I start to sound too "Pollyanna-ish," I should say that while the children's programming market is strong, animation seems to have slowed down. It is live-action that is currently most in demand. This is probably because there has been an excess of animated programming fed into the marketplace in the last few years and buyers are looking for alternatives. It doesn't mean that all is lost for animation, it just means that for the next year or two it will be more difficult to get an animated show made. The good shows will always find a home, but the glut of mediocre product will have a much more difficult time succeeding.

Remember, however, that our business is very cyclical. As soon as the buyers are inundated with live-action programming, they'll start searching for animation again.

A busy MIPCOM 1998.
Photo by Yves Coatsaliou, courtesy of Reed Midem.

How to Get a Show to MIPCOM and Why
Before I go any further, I should explain how a show even gets to MIPCOM and more importantly, why we take it there in the first place. There used to be a time, only a few short years ago, when we Americans didn't think we needed the international marketplace to get a show produced. If you were lucky enough to have a show picked up by a U.S. network, most, if not all, of the production costs were covered and you were on your way. If you didn't have an American broadcaster, you dropped plans for the show.

Today, if you do get a show picked up domestically, you are lucky if the license fee covers 10% of the production cost. What would have seemed like a laughable idea a few years ago is now commonplace; we find one or two strategic international co-production partners and begin production on shows without having even pitched to the U.S. broadcasters yet.

Preparing for MIPCOM
One trip to Cannes and you'll realize what a difficult job we as buyers and co-production executives have in weeding through the tremendous number of shows and ideas available. That's why it is so important to prepare properly and do your research before even taking an idea to MIPCOM. This is the only way a show has a chance of standing out among the plethora of programming. MIP Jr., the two-day children's programming market proceeding MIPCOM, had hundreds of programs available for screening. At MIPCOM itself, it seemed as though there were thousands of additional projects seeking our attention.

This is why a lot of work should be put into a show before it even reaches the smoke-filled aisles of the Palais. A property's chances of success are directly related to how much thought and research goes into it. It is very important to know what the marketplace wants and, while it is difficult, if not impossible, to come up with an idea that appeals to every buyer in every country. You must have a pretty good sense of the overall current trends.

Also, it is essential to know what the individual buyer wants. There is nothing worse than pitching a fabulous idea for an animated fantasy adventure series and then having the buyer tell you that he only wants live-action dramas. Conversely, from a buyer's perspective, I can tell you that if I've just wasted precious "sitting down and resting my feet time" to hear a pitch for a documentary on the history of the jelly bean, I won't be too happy.

Finally, be flexible. Even if you've done all of your research and think you have a great idea, listen to what the buyers are telling you. Be open to change and creative comments. Most of the time it will help your chances of success.

Inside the showroom...
Photo by Yves Coatsaliou, courtesy of Reed Midem.

Back to This Year's Market...
As I mentioned, the overall reaction to animated programming at this year's MIPCOM was less than enthusiastic. I overheard many buyers saying that they didn't see anything that stood out. Now, you can choose to have a pessimistic reaction to this news or, as I have, look on the positive side. The fact that there wasn't anything spectacular means that if you come up with the next wonderful idea, you will have a greater chance of sticking out among the competition.

Many people complained that the market was slow and there weren't as many people there, but I can only comment on my experience which was terrific. I had more meetings than ever, plus they were more productive than ever. Sony Wonder has had a fantastic year, which is all directly related to our past work at MIPCOM. Every series we have in production, including Rainbow Fish and Wondrous Myths & Legends, or are about to start on, such as The Lost Legends of Krogg and Atomic Babies, is a result of relationships and deals done at MIPCOM.

Now, it's time to get back to the office and start plodding through the stacks of pitches I shipped home. Somewhere in that pile, I hope that I will find the next big hit.

Loris Kramer is vice president of creative services at Sony Wonder.

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