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TVWeek.com is proud to welcome a trio of prominent executives who will be our eyes and ears on the French Riviera at this year’s MIPTV international television market.

The three companies these gentlemen represent all figure to be involved with some of the biggest deals to take place in Cannes, whether it’s program acquisition, sales, technology, or developing new platforms.

Mr. Neil Braun is president of distribution and marketing for Starz Media, a U.S. company heading to MIP for the first time. Sean Cohan is senior VP, International for A&E Television Networks and will be at the market with the goal of managing and expanding A&E Television Networks’ brands and services outside the U.S. Greg Moyer serves as general manager of Voom HD Networks, and will be at MIP to explore new avenues for his brand.

As the world gets smaller, all three of these companies figure to play bigger roles both within the United States and around the world. Their blogs will provide insights to the market that you won’t find anywhere else.

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Trickle Turns into a Flood

April 19, 2007 5:36 PM

Neil Braun, Starz at Cannez

Wednesday’s trickle of departures turned into a flood Thursday, as the MIP market more or less wound up by the end of the day today. A brief power outage in the area around the Palais, including in the Riviera Seaview where our stand is located, seemed to signal that it was time to pack up and head home, although many attendees didn’t need the hint.

People were stuffing boxes, taking down fixtures, closing up shop. One Starz Media executive saw a jazz trio setting up in one hallway, even as the stand around them was being dismantled. Apparently they were going to be playing farewell music.

Before I get on my flight back home Friday, here are a few final thoughts about this MIP, and how Starz Media did in its first time here:

• Our sales team has been busy right from the start, and it continued into Thursday night. We all but closed a number of market sales (some final details remain to be worked out), continued and even intensified discussions in other territories, and had a productive week overall. Clearly, the proliferation of channels continues to demand programming to fill additional time slots. If the new media channels – broadband and wireless – start to gain financial traction, they’ll enter the buying activities too in the not too distant future. In short, outlets are ready and eager to buy.

• Just as evident is that quality matters. So much of what’s available here is indistinguishable from everything else. That means it’s important to stand out, especially with top stories and production values. With home-grown production booming in many countries, local broadcasters there are under no pressure to buy programming unless it meets a high standard. Feedback from buyers throughout the market was that standards are rising, whether the properties are aimed at television or the still strong DVD market.

• International co-productions make a lot of sense. In addition to selling our programming here, we also had several very productive meetings with potential partners in overseas territories, about collaborating on new projects. These meetings reaffirm our belief that there is a good business for us in being a one-stop shop for production financing, sales and creative collaboration with producers and networks. With several of the projects we’ve been selling in Cannes, we took what had been someone’s dream project, and provided the necessary elements to make it into an actual production. We continued those kinds of discussions with other interested networks here, and expect at least some of them to bear fruit.

• This market continues to be enormously important for Starz Media, and just about all other companies too. While viewers may often feel like they have an almost one-on-one relationship with the programming they see on TV, the business behind it is a global one. Now more than ever, in fact, successful companies need to meet with foreign buyers and sellers, to stay abreast of a rapidly changing marketplace, and to nourish and expand relationships in ways that phone calls or sales calls just can’t match.

So thank you to all the buyers, producers, aggregators and others we met with here these last few days. We’ll continue these conversations in the weeks and months ahead, and no doubt initiate some new discussions too, ones made possible by events like MIP.

Neil Braun is President of Distribution and Marketing at Starz Media.

Exit Day

April 19, 2007 1:25 PM

VOOMing on the Croisette

The MIP market is officially over at 6pm tonight, but buyers are leaving beginning to leave in droves. Halls are half as full as the day before. Even the sky has gone from beckoning us with brilliant blue to becoming mostly overcast.

By this time in the week, everybody greets you with a question, “How’s the market been for you?”

Not wanting to prolong every encounter, most mumble something like “It’s been great.”

In fact, there is no useful answer. Most people who attended MIP have conducted in excess for 30 or 40 meetings. Surely some were good, a few maybe even great. A bunch were just short of awful.

This year MIP came later than usual and buyers for the major terrestrial channels around the world are already talking about the L.A. Screenings that commence in three weeks. For the people who buy “big TV” for big territories, MIP is already an afterthought.

But most people still here aren’t buying and selling “big TV”. They are suppliers of genre content to cable and satellite channels or are buyers for terrestrial TV from smaller countries that never bid for “Desperate Housewives” or “Grey’s Anatomy”.

Despite all of the qualifications, I’d assess that most of the conventioneers I talked to were upbeat about their prospects. Money seemed to be flowing. Optimism based on emerging technologies seemed plentiful. Deals were closing.

I asked one young saleswoman if she ever tired of pitching hour after hour, day after day. She offered that it’s far easier if you book tight and just move through the day without breaks. “I don’t even like to go for a coffee,” she volunteered, “you never know who might drop by looking for help.”

As the market nears an end, we habitually look forward to the HD-themed cocktail party hosted by our program distributor iD Distribution. This London-based firm founded by super saleswoman Sally Miles has over 600 hours of HD content from Voom HD for sale. The tradition started at MIPCOM in 2005 as way of bringing the small community of HD producers and telecasters together.

Thankfully, our numbers are increasing. Other non-fiction channels such as Discovery and National Geographic are demanding that most new productions shoot in HD. Even the BBC, atypically late to the HD party, is increasing its commitment to the format.

Once buyers demand it, producers quickly follow. Finding libraries of HD content is nearly impossible, but going forward, there is no resistance to working in the superior technical format.

Another MIP ritual for Voom HD Networks is the closing dinner when our buyers and commissioners break bread with our partners in Canada, High Fidelity Inc. Hi-Fi operates four HD services north of the border, three of which are Voom-branded.

We toasted our growth over the last six months and shared several laughs, sometimes at the expense of our hosts, the French. The new pet peeve around the table was being forced to use unfamiliar French keyboards on computers scattered through MIP.

As one Voomer observed sarcastically, “As soon as I missed the shift key, a message popped on the screen, ‘Stop gawking at our women, Stop eating our food. Please go home at your earliest convenience. Thank you.’”

Sure sign that another MIP is coming to a close.

Greg Moyer is General Manager of Voom HD Networks.

'Groundhog Day' Draws to a Close

April 19, 2007 1:23 PM

Sean Cohan, AETN's Postcards from the Palais

Back with the update on the last two days of MIP TV 2007. Lots to talk about:

Great awards dinner on Wednesday night, with the International Academy honoring the International Interactive Emmy Nominees and winners. Our UK joint venture partner, BSkyB received extremely well-deserved kudos for its visionary efforts in interactive media with Sophie Turner-Laing accepting the International Academy’s Pioneer Award. We’re proud to call them our partner in a strong series of brands and services in the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, the Benelux, Greece and Africa. Congrats to Sophie and BSkyB, and, of course, to the International Academy on another successful event.

As for AETN-specific developments at the market: Another big announcement for The History Channel on Wednesday – the channel will launch with Telenet in Belgium in just a few weeks (May 1) and will also be featured as part of the platform’s VoD offering. Coupled with our recent announcements in Scandinavia and Southeast Asia, safe to say that the channel has strong momentum in its 11th year of international broadcast. Its High Def sibling, The History Channel HD has drawn a ton of interest from partners and distributors alike and our other brands, like The Biography Channel, which just two weeks ago launched in Germany, have some great energy around them heading into the summer. In sum, we’ll have launched seven AETN branded channels in the first six months of 2007! More to come in the second half of the year.

Continued success for program sales: Sales and strong interest in Biography, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe (sales in Romanian and Russia and interest from the Czech Republic to Belgium). Sons of Hollywood was also a hit with European buyers looking to snap up this latest hip instalment of AETN’s real-life series. A few deals to announce in the UK and Spain as well. Amongst our buyers in Asia, the frequently-screened Ancient Discoveries has been a sought-after commodity amongst buyers.

Several important digital media deals advanced this market. VoD, broadband and mobile – to be announced in the months to come. Seems like every market, digital media permeates more and more of even the most traditional conversations. It has gotten to the point where a conversation about just one platform is becoming the exception rather than the rule.

And so a very successful market comes to a close. Lots of key announcements and deals done - - plus a ton learned about our clients, partners and producers - - and even more follow-up to be done over the next few weeks and months …. Some sleep to catch up on for our dedicated, tireless team … And another “Groundhog Day” in Cannes draws to a close, with spring, if not summer, definitely underway there. Let’s hope the beautiful weather spreads beyond Europe to those of us in the States.

We look forward to continuing the great momentum and partnerships forged leading up to and during the market and seeing all very soon in London, Singapore, Budapest Amsterdam, Berlin, Mexico City, Sydney and a million other places. And if not, we’ll see all again at the Palais, Grand, Majestic, Carlton or airport customs in only six months. Until then, Cheers!

Sean Cohan is Senior Vice President, International for A&E Television Networks.

18 Months to Climb Everest

April 19, 2007 1:20 PM

VOOMing on the Croisette

CANNES – Today Voom HD and Altitude Films announced co-production of a major theatrical documentary retracing the steps of George Mallory, a legendary British explorer who may have the first man to summit Mount Everest nearly 30 years before the feat was definitively accomplished.

Apart from the challenging logistics of closing a deal with principals in London, New York, and Cannes, this deal represents the MIP experience in microcosm.

It all began three markets and 18 months ago at MIPCOM 2005. There I spoke with Anthony Geffen, the managing director of Atlantic Productions, a long-time friend and producer of big budget, high-profile non-fiction projects for Discovery Channel, A&E, and PBS in the U.S.

Anthony pitched the idea of telling the Mallory story as a theatrical documentary that would release in theaters then syndicate worldwide as television. This project would mark the first time that either London-based Atlantic Productions or Voom HD had committed to a theatrical window before distribution on television.

We met in the Buyer’s Lounge and quickly assessed that the tale had the requisite drama to carry a 90-minute production. The hard part was funding on a scale that would allow HD cameras to shoot for over a month on the mountain and ultimately be carried to the summit, 29,000 feet above sea level.

That’s when Anthony went to work. In between archeological shoots in Egypt and in-depth filmmaking in Italy, Anthony sold a bevy of investors from the U.K. on the film concept. By MIPCOM 2006 (October), Anthony reported to me on his progress. The situation looked promising enough that we budgeted for the project to go forward in 2007. But at this point there still was no production plan or firm budget.

Throughout the winter, Anthony and Voom HD reached out to the tight-knit community of mountain adventurers to recruit the caliber of climber necessary to recreate the Mallory expedition of the 1920s. The attempt would take the same route with essentially the same equipment. If the modern-day expedition reaches the summit, then possibly Mallory did too. The frozen body of George Mallory was discovered in 1999 several hundred yards short of his goal. Was he on his way up, or on his way down?

Over the winter, Anthony’s team built a plan for both the expedition and the creation of the feature that went before investors and Voom HD this spring.

After further consultations in New York, we mutually agreed up the ante. Voom HD and Altitude Films also will operate a website from the mountain for the duration of the expedition. For the first time, people around the world will be able to receive video, weather conditions, maps, and biomedical data from the climbers in real time.

With plans now set, lawyers in London and New York worked feverishly to paper the deal so that Anthony and I could sign when we were together here at MIP. Time was of the essence. The expedition leaves for Everest at the end of the month. The website goes live early May. The film delivers by year-end.

On Thursday, Daily Variety reported that “Voom HD, Altitude Climb Everest.”

Greg Moyer is General Manager of Voom HD Networks.

Face Time

April 18, 2007 5:59 PM

Neil Braun, Starz at Cannez

Cannes, France – You can sense it while walking around the MIP market today: the event is starting to slow down. You see MIP participants – identifiable by the large ID card, attached to a bright orange lanyard, around their neck – climbing into cabs with suitcases, and the hallways are a bit less congested. After two-plus days of intense meetings, and with the end of the market now in sight, it raises the question of why come to a market like MIP? Why set up a stand, fly in talent, and disrupt the lives of the dozen or so Starz Media folks who are spending this week here?

You ask it near the end of all such markets, and the answer is clear: even with phones and email, and the Blackberries that combine the two, you need face time to take projects and relationships to the next level. We come to MIP in the spring and MIPCOM in the fall to continue conversations, at whatever stage those conversation were left.

With production partners, we’re making first contact, or it may be an update on an ongoing project. With a distributor, it may be a chance to show them a nearly completed show that we sold at the previous market, or to show footage of something new on our slate. It's a chance to see what other companies are offering, to gauge how we’re marketing our projects vis-à-vis our competition. Some of our meetings have nothing to do with projects for sale at this market, but simply because proximity to customers, suppliers and distributors generates new opportunities.

They say MIP and MIPCOM are sales conventions, but from my perspective, they’re really multi-faceted business meetings among people who may work together, but across the globe. That’s because television is a long cycle business and, increasingly, a long distance one too. It can’t be done well without getting together in person with suppliers, customers, far-flung colleagues and vendors.

We’re still here for the rest of the week, and have some important meetings set up with major players. But we’re also already looking ahead to MIPCOM in the fall. After all, we’ll have negotiations to continue.

Neil Braun is President of Distribution and Marketing at Starz Media.

The United Nations of Television

April 18, 2007 2:49 PM

VOOMing on the Croisette

CANNES. Welcome to the United Nations. With cruise ships docked offshore and a sliver of silvery beach covered by sun worshipping tourists, this is a far cry of the East River in the mid-40s. But this week, the Palais may as well be the Secretariat for the United Nations of Television.

What most Americans don’t understand is how much programming exists that they have never heard of. After a stroll through the aisles, where companies cluster roughly by country of origin, you feel like we’ve been on a round-the-world-cruise.

Despite the polyglot of languages spoken across the hall, the lingua franca is English.

Despite the myriad of languages comprising the soundtrack of the programs on offer, the visual storytelling power of TV is the common thread that reminds you how we are more alike than different.

The big announcement for Voom HD Networks here is a deal to launch the first high definition channel in the Middle East. Our partner is Orbit Communications, the leading DBS platform serving 23 countries across North Africa and the Middle East.

While conservative government-controlled broadcast television is still the norm on the Arab “street”, satellite delivered TV is much like what Americans have come to expect from a 250-channel universe. Movies, music, drama and other artifacts of western culture are all available, along with an enormous amount of Arabic programming produced by Orbit itself.

And Orbit subscribers watch a lot of television. The most startling fact is that with the enormous oil wealth enjoyed by many countries in the region the average length of the workday is measured in MINUTES rather than hours. Michael Johnson, Orbit’s EVP, says that for Kuwaiti nationals the average workday is just 8 minutes! (Lots of people not working at all and some working a little.) Generally women don’t work out of the house, and most have domestic help. Clearly, that leaves plenty of time for the tube.

Over lunch with Voom HD distribution partners for Scandinavia, Non-Stop Television, we learned that HD is picking up steam. In colder climates, where the nights are long, television is also a favored pastime. Voom HD launched in the dead of winter last November and is now on the air in each of the four Scandinavian countries as well as the Baltic nations of Estonia, and Latvia.

All our distribution partners like to hear that this year Voom HD is shooting 65 television series in over 45 countries. Our commitment to global production means that Voom HD will look and feel like the multi-cultural world it serves.

The day ended on the beach with a party hosted by Zone Media (and parent company Chellomedia), our distributors for the rest of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. There, I ran into colleagues from SDI, a company whose primary service is to dub or subtitle TV programming into multiple languages. They are currently putting five subtitled languages under all content for the Voom HD feed. And the good news tonight is that Zone Media is close to selling Voom HD into more European territories. That means more work for SDI.

As we stood sipping wine on the beach, fireworks lit up the sky over the Mediterranean. It served as a fitting end to a successful day.

Greg Moyer is General Manager of Voom HD Networks.

Good Sales, Good Weather

April 17, 2007 7:37 PM

Neil Braun, Starz at Cannez

Cannes, France – This has been a long but satisfying day for us at MIP, since tonight we celebrated the strong premiere performance of our new action series, “Painkiller Jane.” It attracted nearly 1 million viewers in our core demographics, and helped power Sci Fi Channel to its best second quarter Friday in two years, drawing a nearly equal mix of young men and young women. So we kicked off the evening with a gala rooftop cocktail party, followed by a very intimate dinner with the series’ star and co-executive producer, Kristanna Loken, and its executive producer and show runner Gil Grant and some buyers and other representatives in key territories.

But we’ve got more going on than just that show. We’ve seen a lot of interest today in our package of titles based on the Japanese anime style from Starz Home Entertainment’s Manga Entertainment division. We’re putting together a weekly block of Manga programming for a U.S. network, and we’re now also talking to major networks in various international territories.

Similarly, we’ve had many interested buyers stopping by asking about “Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!,” which has already scored strong ratings wherever it’s played – the U.S., the U.K. and Australia so far – and we look to close some deals in other markets as well.

One reason why markets like MIP are so important, though, is that it’s not just to generate sales; in addition to our sales team, our contingent in the Riviera Seaview this year includes a hefty contingent from our various production units, including Starz Productions, Starz Animation, Film Roman and Manga. They’ve had a number of intriguing meetings with potential foreign production partners, and we hope to come back from Cannes with series, mini-series and movie opportunities.

All in all, then, things look good for us … and I hope others here too, are enjoying good sales along with the good weather.

Neil Braun is President of Distribution and Marketing at Starz Media.

Word of Virginia Tech Tragedy Reaches Mip

April 17, 2007 2:05 PM

Sean Cohan, AETN's Postcards from the Palais

Was so removed and locked in back-to-back meetings the past two days that I was unaware of the tragic events that occurred at Virginia Tech until this afternoon. I’m profoundly saddened and stunned by the tragedy – my thoughts and prayers go out to all the families and communities who have been affected.

On a much lighter note, at today’s market … AETN and our UK joint venture with Sky announced a carriage and VOD agreement with Telenet, further extending the penetration of our Benelux service into Belgium. In the wake of yesterday’s landmark Asia deal, lots of meetings and progress today for our brands in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Very strong program sales activity today. Our series, Ancient Discoveries, was ranked the #2 most screened program at MIP DOC last weekend! Tremendous interest in our new, improved Princess Diana Biography which was sold today in three large markets. Our Dog the Bounty Hunter hour-long specials sold in several territories across EMEA. A large package of documentaries – 80 hours – sold to a free-to-air broadcaster in Germany. In addition, we’ve made some strong progress on acquisitions and VOD deployment across our genres.

The weather here continues to smile on us amidst the darker events at home. Again, words cannot express our deep condolences to those who have been touched by this tragedy. Till tomorrow.

Sean Cohan is Senior Vice President, International for A&E Television Networks.

'Speed Dating' for Hits

April 17, 2007 1:10 PM

VOOMing on the Croisette

CANNES. Monday. MIP TV is underway. Buyers, sellers, and other well-dressed enablers are streaming into the Palais on another flawless weather day about to begin a series of meetings and drive-by inquiries in search of the next hit program – or at least something to fill that tough slot on the schedule.

At its essence, MIP TV is the digital equivalent of a Turkish rug bazaar where buyers go shopping for programming and once satisfied begin the intricate negotiation of price and terms.

This isn’t a market that Google is likely to automate anytime soon. Every piece of television is "special". In fact, due to the balkanization of rights attached to most programming projects – territorial holdbacks, music clearances, etc. – selling content can actually be quite difficult. Most transactions usually find their way to a lawyer’s inbox for execution.

All this "special-ness" makes shopping at MIP quite "high touch." And the basis of good relations is to have done your homework and established a calendar of appointments well before the market begins. That diary is your guide for the next four days while you go "speed dating" for hits.

My Monday consisted of 9 meetings across 10 hours including one working lunch. That’s a solid, but sane schedule. I’ve tried meetings on the half-hour and you spend so much time moving between appointments that you barely get passed the air kisses and ceremonial exchanging of the business cards with the Japanese. The trick is to balance the need to see content from potentially hundreds of vendors and to have enough time to remember anything about what is being pitched.

At 11am, I took a meeting set weeks ago with a Korean company new to me. A young woman with fluency in English introduced me to her boss who spoke only Korean. For the next 30 minutes, she was the bridge between us. They pitched four documentary series, one of which might be right for our world cultures channel, Equator HD. We screened a DVD with highlights and discussed plans for additional productions and the sales history of the programs. The ball is now in my court to screen a completed program and render a verdict.

That’s the basic drill to be repeated hour after hour, day after day. Since the Reed Midem organization, organizers of MIP TV, banned smoking in the airless Palais, it is not a bad gig at all.

At Voom HD Networks, we use MIP TV to buy programs, to sell programs, to co-produce programming and to meet with potential distributors of our Voom HD Global channel, now on the air in Europe.

That gives the meeting schedule some variety as I slip into different roles for different conversations.

But at its heart, this is about meeting in one week most of the people you need to do business with for the entire year.

The cardinal rule is that you respect your appointments – no matter how late you caroused along the Croisette the night before. Your reputation depends on getting business done efficiently. No one has time to waste.

As one top female sales executive who has are reputation as a world-class party animal put it so delicately, "You always show up for that first appointment, even if you’ve lost the keys to the handcuffs."

Tomorrow: Is this television or did I join the United Nations?

Greg Moyer is General Manager of Voom HD Networks.

Elevating Programming

April 16, 2007 6:20 PM

Neil Braun, Starz at Cannez

CANNES, France -- Today was the start of business on the MIP TV convention floor - floors, really, since the market has now spread into the new Riviera building, including the rooftop Riviera Seaview area, which is where Starz Media is situated. That gave me an opportunity to walk around and see what the world's producers are offering at this market. What did I find? Lots of programming that looks like lots of other programming. There's a generic quality to much of what's available here, programming that seems like a commodity.

It underscored our belief that we have to produce shows that stand out, that have qualities that elevate it above the commodities that fill the aisles here in Cannes. That's why we feel good about "Painkiller Jane," a new action series with a recognizable star in Kristanna Loken, a proven writer and producer in Gil Grant, and a sizable 22-episode first-run primetime commitment. The show stood out from much of what's here, and not just because Kristanna was here for the first of two days of interviews, meetings and events.

She brought some star wattage to this otherwise fairly staid market - more than a dozen photographers from local and international agencies turned up on the Majestic Pier for her photo call - and reminded potential buyers about how committed we are to this project. That we were able to announce distribution deals for the series today in Japan, Turkey and Iceland, with other markets teed up to close within days, underscore our confidence in this series.

But in the back-to-back meetings Starz Media's sales, production and home entertainment executives here with me this week had today, conversations involved many of our other projects, from our series for young children "Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!" -- which we learned today was nominated for best animated children's program at this year's prestigious Banff Television Festival -- to some series we're not quite ready to announce yet.

The people we met with seem open to our position as a one-stop shop for producers and networks with a passion project that's lacking a key element - funding, international distribution, creative input, production savvy or some combination of all of these -- and we ended our first day of MIP feeling good about the reception we received today.

Neil Braun is President of Distribution and Marketing at Starz Media.