WORLD GAGA OVER U.S. TV
The global traffic in TV content has never been more intense, the pace never quicker and the pricing rarely as healthy.
Whether it was such American shows as CBS Paramount's "Californication," NBC Universal's "Bionic Woman" or Warner Bros. TV's "Pushing Daisies," it seems that foreign program buyers just can't get enough of U.S. dramas. And most of the time, and thanks in part to strong local currencies, they're paying through the nose for them.
Still, as key U.S. execs here on the Riviera made a point of saying, the traffic is now clearly "back and forth across the Atlantic," in Leslie Moonves' words, and "multidirectional" in Ben Silverman's words.
The CBS CEO was feted for his pioneering efforts in opening up the U.S. market to foreign program formats as well as for turning "CSI" into the epitome of a global franchise.
The latter, who is NBC Universal Entertainment and Media Studios co-chair, cut his teeth on the international programming scene, making his mark by spotting cutting-edge concepts and turning them into hits stateside. He has just sourced his latest three format hopefuls -- not from the usual British or Dutch markets but from unplumbed sources in Israel, Colombia and Australia.
As the 23rd MIPCOM trade show, which wraps Friday, has made abundantly clear, it's not enough to just buy and sell product; it's about managing to leverage a property and turn it into a hit -- hey, even a global brand -- that really matters to the bosses and their bottom lines back home.
Disney's top European salesman Tom Toumazis put it this way: "It's the experience of accessing our content that has to be enriching. That's what we worry about and concentrate on rather than simply how we monetize this or that new platform opportunity. We're focused on keeping our shows successful and finding new ways to reach people."
Toumazis was speaking Wednesday on one of MIPCOM's many panels, which in the past couple of years have provided stimulating discussions about the digital revolution and how broadcasters and producers are dealing with it.
Judging from these gabfests, paranoia about digital has been largely replaced by pragmatism. The new mantra: Consumers want content whenever, wherever and however; broadcasters and producers are finding ways to supply that and figure out how to get paid for it at the same time.
Disney, for example, has recently supplied preview episodes of "Lost" on Germany's Maxdome a week before broadcast; created additive material online of the telenovela that Betty's family watches at home on the series "Ugly Betty"; and harnessed multiple divisions of Disney to turn "High School Musical" into an international phenom.
And Disney is not alone. Televisa topper Emilio Azcarraga Jean in delivering a keynote Tuesday talked about how the Mexican conglom had parlayed a musical reality show titled "Rebelde" into a worldwide sensation, taking advantage of all the company's divisional expertise and marketing know-how, from concert touring to Web sites, to magazine profiles of the show's stars.
The hustle and bustle on the Riviera this week was not limited to the Americans: European sellers also were reporting booming business.
"Everyone is doing well, everyone is selling," said Irina Ignatiew, vp at Germany's Telepool.
The Munich-based agent notched up several package deals with continental Europe, selling the multicultural sitcom "Turkish for Beginners" to Canal Plus in France, the RTL comedy "Poor Millionaires" to M6 and closing with Italy's RAI for the entire series of the long-running Autobahn cops drama "Cobra."
"U.S. series are strong, but European channels need EU content to fill their quotas, and they are open now to getting that from outside their own country," Ignatiew said.
That view was seconded by Oliver Kreuter, distribution head at Bavaria Media, who said 2007 would be a record year for the company.
"In Italy alone, we've had more than 100% revenue growth, and that's leaving out returns from our best-selling series there, the telenovela 'Storm of Love,' " Kreuter noted.
Added Beta Film head Jan Mojto, "The cake is getting bigger, it is fragmenting with all the new channels and distribution outlets, but the business is growing."
WGA PREPARING FOR STRIKE
The WGA clearly wants to send a signal. The guild has formulated strike rules that would impose an exceptionally aggressive stance on its 12,000 members.
In addition to a ban on any guild-covered work in features and TV, a draft recap of the WGA rules said the guild plans to prohibit any writing for new media and declare that writers can't do animated features -- even though that realm is not under WGA jurisdiction.
The WGA didn't specify what the penalties would be for violating the rules. It's also asserting that nonmembers who perform banned work during a strike will be barred from joining the guild in the future.
Guild hasn't issued the regulations officially and will probably not do so until after it obtains strike authorization from members next week. Deadline for ballots is Oct. 18 -- 13 days before the current WGA contract expires.
But news of the rules began circulating Wednesday as the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers met in the afternoon in their eighth face-to-face session; they plan to resume talks this ayem. The two sides have achieved no progress during the previous sessions and have simply blamed each other for taking untenable stances.
The two meetings this week have focused on the WGA's proposal to double DVD residuals. In a statement after Wednesday's session, AMPTP president Nick Counter said the meeting consisted of discussions on "discrepancies in the data presented by the WGA."
In response, the WGA opted for a civil tone, saying, "We appreciate the AMPTP's offer to provide economic data to back up their arguments regarding the homevideo formula. We look forward to continuing the discussion of this critically important topic."
Earlier Wednesday, WGA West prexy Patric Verrone and exec director David Young painted a gloomy picture of the state of the talks in a 90-minute visit to ICM offices. The duo expressed frustration during the confab, characterizing the AMPTP's reaction as disrespectful to the guild's proposals -- which include spelling out rules for new-media work, doubling DVD residuals and expansion of jurisdiction in animation and reality.
Counter has returned fire repeatedly, accusing the WGA of being strike-happy and unprofessional. The AMPTP's refused to revise its initial proposal for a revamp of residual payments so that talent would receive money only after basic costs have been recouped.
In a membership meeting Tuesday night at the Century Plaza hotel, Verrone indicated he believes some progress has been achieved outside the negotiations via back channels and expressed hope that the AMPTP will take the residuals revamp off the table.
CLOONEY, DICAPRIO TEAMING UP
It was only a matter of time: Two of Hollywood’s most politically active stars are teaming up for a political thriller.
George Clooney and Leonard DiCaprio are in discussions to partner for “Farragut North,” based on the upcoming Broadway play by Beau Willimon. Clooney would direct and produce the adaptation, which is set up at Warner Bros., while DiCaprio would star and produce as well.
Titled after the Washington, D.C., Metro station that is located near many lobbyists’ offices, the play is loosely based on Democrat Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential election campaign, during which Willimon worked for Dean.
The story follows a young, idealistic communications director who works for an inspiring, though unorthodox, presidential candidate. During the campaign, his career is done in by more seasoned politicos who thrive on poisonous partisan politics, dirty tricks and back-stabbing.
Willimon, who is adapting his own work, held readings of the play over the summer in which Jake Gyllenhaal participated. The play, which Mike Nichols is slated to direct, is set to open next fall, smack dab in the middle of the presidential election.
Clooney would produce with his Smoke House shingle partner, Grant Heslov, while DiCaprio would produce via his Appian Way. Both are based at Warners.
Right now, Clooney is starring in the corporate thriller “Michael Clayton” and is in postproduction on latest directorial effort, “Leatherheads.” He is repped by CAA and Lichter, Grossman, Nichols & Adler.
DiCaprio is currently filming Ridley Scott’s Iraq war thriller “Body of Lies.” He is repped by the Firm and Hansen, Jacobson, Teller.