Major construction work along Cannes’ famed Croisette has turned this most glamorous of French seaside towns into a chaotic building site. Television executives, in town for the MIPCOM Cannes international TV confab, which runs through Thursday, Oct. 19, have been forced to run a gauntlet of concrete slabs and roped-off danger zones.
It’s an apt metaphor for the mood at MIPCOM this year. A conflagration of factors — the actors strike, rising inflation, a slump in the advertising market, and a pull-back in investment by the global streamers — have combined to weaken the foundations of the international TV business. Executives are treading carefully as if in fear the whole structure could collapse under their feet.
“There’s a lot of fear out there, a lot of companies are worried they might not be around in six, 12, 18 months,” said one MIPCOM veteran, the CEO of a mid-sized European production and distribution company. “Netflix and Amazon have gone from buying almost everything to buying one to two shows in most markets. If you’re not one of those two, you end up with nothing.”
The high-end of the market, those producing big-budget drama series, have been hardest hit. With most networks and streamers now unwilling to cash-flow premium fiction, small and mid-sized producers are finding themselves squeezed, with inflation eating up their margins and the risk of default increasing.
“There will be blood in the water before this is over,” notes Danny Fisher, CEO and co-founder of AVOD group FilmRise.
If high-end drama has become a risky proposition, non-scripted entertainment and reality TV is enjoying a revival at MIPCOM. This has less to do with the ongoing actors strike in the U.S. and more with the cost-benefit analysis of individual channels and platforms. The streamers, in particular, are embracing lower-cost entertainment shows. Prime Video at MIPCOM announced it signed a deal to adapt the British game show The 1% Club, and ITV quiz program produced by BBC Studios, for its service in North America. The news follows the launch of Fremantle’s hit competition format Got Talent on Disney+ in Italy and the reboot of the iconic Australian soap Neighbours on Amazon’s Freevee in the U.K. and U.S.
“I’m having conversations with the streamers for entertainment and reality shows, even for soaps,” said Sascha Schwingel, the new CEO of German production giant UFA, part of Fremantle. “On the scripted side, what everyone wants is less ‘edgy’ shows and more mainstream, procedurals and the like.”
What makes the non-scripted deals particularly noticeable is the new willingness of global streamers to share rights to formats with producers and other channels — Neighbours premieres on Australia’s Network 10 part of Paramount Global for example — instead of insisting on locking up exclusive worldwide rights.
“The changes in the market mean a lot of people will have to change the way they do business,” said Andrea Scrosati, group COO and CEO of continental Europe at Fremantle, who noted that windowing — different broadcasters and platforms sharing rights to the same show across time-restricted periods — was back in fashion as buyers begin to favor cost-efficiency over exclusivity.
Bob Bakish, president and CEO of Paramount Global, made a similar point at his keynote address at MIPCOM this week, arguing that the way forward was a return to the good-old licensing business. Instead of “pulling back content and putting up walled gardens” as Bakish argued, Paramount’s studio competitors have done in an effort to build up their fledgling streaming platforms, selling off local rights to programming to international partners was a “profitable, multibillion-dollar business” and “a critical driver” to global expansion.
“I’m still very confident about the future of the streaming business,” said Guy Bisson executive director at digital research group Ampere Analysis. “The current downturn has more to do with macroeconomic factors, inflation, etc. As the platforms and the studios return to licensing and windowing and focus less on subscriber growth than on ROI (Return on Investment), we should see a return to growth.”
MIPCOM Cannes 2024 will be held October 21-24, 2024. Partner market MIPTV will be held in Cannes April 8-10, 2024.