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COMPANY TOWN : Cannes Now a Prime-Time Player : Marketing: A growing number of film execs are attending other festivals, drawn by the bucks of selling to foreign TV.

October 13, 1995|LOUISE McELVOGUE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

CANNES, France — It used to be that film executives came to Cannes only in May to see and be seen at the Cannes Film Festival, but a growing number are making the pilgrimage to the other festivals, including the one being held this week to sell television programming across the world.

A number of independent filmmakers, including a group of companies from the American Film Marketing Assn., are winding up business at their first Mipcom market and say they will be back for the sister Mip TV market in April. Both markets (whose names are based on French acronyms) were set up by U.S. studios and other programmers to market their wares to foreign television distributors.

The ambience of the television markets is strikingly different from that of the film festival.

Hollywood dons casual resort wear for the film festival, which takes place in hotels, small offices and cinemas around the main boulevard of La Croissette for two weeks in May.

By contrast, Mip TV in April and Mipcom in October each attract about 10,000 suited TV executives who conduct most of their business in three days in one huge building affectionately called the bunker--the basement of the Palais des Festivals.

The way of doing business is also different. "Put it this way," a member of the first-time film delegation said: "You won't see the television people fighting and screaming at each other in corridors like you see at film markets; and if they buy your product, they are more likely to pay for it."

But it is not the perceived courtesy of the international television market that has brought film companies to Mipcom. It is the surge in revenues from selling feature films to international TV markets, particularly European outlets, which have been booming for a decade.

The U.S. studios are the biggest exhibitors here and have always used the value of their feature films to help sell packages of less desirable television products. Independent filmmakers are more likely to sell off TV rights to their feature films with all other rights in foreign territories.

Industry experts say foreign television sales now generate as much profit as a film's foreign box office, so more film companies are holding on to their television rights.

"Television is an insatiable and ever-increasing, multiplying monster," said Daniel Weinzweig, business affairs manager for the Canadian-British company Mayfair Entertainment. Mayfair was one of the AFMA members attending Mipcom for the first time this week.

"With deregulation of satellite broadcasting, you have an enormous proliferation of new channels in Europe. Combine that with the fact that the other half of the world's population have not been exposed to U.S. films--like India, China and Southeast Asia--and you see the incredible potential," Weinzweig said.

This explosion of new channels has created a strong demand for feature films, according to Jeffrey Schlesinger, president of Warner Bros. International Television.

Goldman Sachs' September report on filmed entertainment says that revenues from the sale of feature films to television internationally have outstripped sales to domestic U.S. television revenues since 1988.

"With the right film, the television sales to Germany and the U.K. will equal the revenues from the television sales to the U.S.," says MGM/UA Telecommunications Group President Gary Marenzi.

The European film company Ciby Sales came to Mipcom for the first time to sell its features, including "The Piano," directly to broadcasters.

"At Cannes, people throw a lot of money around to make their films more attractive. The television companies are just richer and more solid business, which came as something of a surprise" said Huw Morgan, Ciby Sales marketing director.

The rising value of TV sales is breaking down some of the walls between film and television.

New Line Television President Bob Friedman, who attends most television markets, including Mipcom, says he now sits in on the studio's film development meetings, not only to talk about how certain features will work in foreign television, but to be in the loop to develop television spinoffs alongside features, as the company did with "The Mask."

Despite the growth of television revenues, most executives doubt that the type of feature films being made will be influenced.

"Film producers still make films primarily for the big screen," said Stewart Till, PolyGram's president of filmed entertainment.

"Just look at 'Seven' and 'Showgirls'--two recent films clearly aimed at the theatrical marketplace. Neither will have any real success in television worldwide because their content will restrict the range of television sales. Rationally or not, the obsession will always be for the box office."

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