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TV: The Long and Short Of It April 5, 2010

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in News.
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This post is reproduced from Follow The Media by Michael Hedges.

Unfolding before our eyes is a television future for those who want more, easier and, perhaps, smaller. Broadcasters have no choice but to experiment with new media. Viewers are adapting the medium to the times as well as their interests.

The annual MIP TV television and film market opened and closed in Cannes last week in the tightest marketplace in memory. Stress was palpable among both buyers and sellers. But stress can be healthy; reality is a great exercise.

To be sure, reality is still the genre de jour. A quarter of MIP TV buyers said reality formats topped their shopping lists. But documentary style productions – from “Frost/Nixon” to “Milk” – got serious attention from buyers, including several cost conscious public broadcasters, expecting audiences looking for more serious fare in the coming year.

Producers are putting substantially more meat on the video menu. And in the spirit of the times some of the bites are smaller. The hot topic throughout the week was converging traditional television with new mobile and Web platforms. All the main presentations throughout the week stressed that the audiovisual world is under stress and it is too late to freak out.

“Mobile TV is set to become the default time-filler in the way that ringing friends and relations now is,” said USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future director Jeffrey Cole in the Digital Lifestyle keynote.

Citing the example of the imploded music industry and its “depressing future”, he said “if they get the model right in the future, and it’s a big if, then what used to bring in €15 will bring in €2. And that’s a best case scenario.” The music industry, he said, had no warning. TV and film producers and distributors had better be paying attention. “TV will be the only traditional media industry to grow in the digital age.”

Internet portals are stalking traditional television channels for viewers and customers. “The internet revolution will be televised,” said Yahoo!’s Connected TV VP Patrick Barry who urged “respect” for the couch-potatoes. “We must not forget that television was conceived and had social impact in an emotional time.

Taking off from interactive video games, Paramount Entertainment and French studio Gaumont will produce twelve 6 to 9 minute segments of a thriller called “Section 8.” It will debut on MySpace in September. Each episode kills off a character and clues to solving the crime will be shared among viewers on MySpace, ultimately influencing the finale. Endemol will distribute the television version worldwide. Disney also announced it would be launching multiple YouTube channels for short videos.

Also visible were producers from outside the Hollywood-London axis, perhaps because some Americans – notably Warner Bros – were in smaller force. Cannes being in France, French producers – some old hands and some not – made up the biggest delegation.

“There’s still a demand for our content,” said CBS Paramount International Television president Armando Nunez to Variety (April 3). “An economic crisis doesn’t change what viewers think of CSI,” referring to the Jerry Bruckheimer Productions mega-series that airs in virtually every country in Europe. Buyers interest was noticeably cost conscious.

China Day opened this years’ MIP TV. And the Chinese delegation was pleased. First joining the throngs of television sellers and buyers in 1990, sales have “gone from zero to millions,” said CITVC marketing director Cheng Chunli. Porch Light Entertainment (US) and Platinum Films (UK) signed deals for animation projects with Chinese producers.

The advertising people seem permanently encamped at Cannes, aware of their role as televisions’ paymaster. “The recession is changing the industry’s foundations, “said the ubiquitous WPP chairman Martin Sorrell to a press gaggle, but “free-to-air TV will not die.” Sir Martin is thrilled by the notion of putting ads on screens of all sizes, the effect of which, he said, has been “exacerbated” by current economics. He’s also thrilled by product placement opportunities, recent rulings by the UK media regulator notwithstanding.

Keeping with a theme heard at the last several Cannes Advertising Festival programs, the ad people want to be the entertainment, not just surround it. Blue Advertainment co-founder Christophe Lambert told a MIP TV session on advertising to “stop interrupting what people enjoy and start becoming what they enjoy.” Branded entertainment is central to advertising strategies, competing with other content supply. One example presented was a Web via mobile phone portal aimed at children on shopping trips with branded stories. The creativity never ends.

MIP TV producer Reed MIDEM said the turnout for this years event was about 15% lower than 2008, 11,500 buyers and sellers from 105 countries. “These are good numbers in this climate,” said a spokesperson to a press conference. “Buying and selling of programs is still the main part of business activity at MIPTV.”

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