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MipTV: 10 Television Sales Chiefs Reveal How They Are Planning For Life After Peak-Pandemic

Jake Kanter
·20 min read

As the virtual MipTV gets underway today, we asked 10 television sales chiefs five simple questions about the state of the market after a pandemic-ravaged year. MipTV was one of the first major television events to pivot online during the coronavirus crisis’ first wave in 2020 and, since then, the distribution business has followed suit in its embrace of video calls, virtual showcases, and far fewer flights. The answers of these 10 distribution bosses confirm what we all know: There is no going back to the way things were. Scroll on to see how they plan to emerge from the worst days of the pandemic.

Cathy Payne, CEO, Banijay Rights

Is MipTV diminishing in importance amid the London Screenings and the rise of direct-to-customer events?
The role of trade markets has been constantly evolving over recent years, in particular for a company such as Banijay which has distribution offices globally. Linear/non-linear schedules constantly evolve and the concept that you have to pitch a title at a given time in a given place, the same for when you launch a title to your intended licensees, has long been superseded. With offices globally, our team is constantly meeting their clients on a regular basis, so while it is always great to catch up again at a global market, the detailed day-to-day business does not happen at trade markets. London Screenings are an opportunity to screen titles in a different, more targeted environment. Banijay will continue to attend trade markets as business needs dictate – in general, we see a greater push towards regional, as opposed to global events.

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What Covid changes to TV distribution will stand the test of time?
The whole world will change as a result of Covid. We have all adopted efficiencies with video conferencing and while I am sure we could all live with a little less Zoom in our lives, I believe we will be mindful to capture the best work practices that have developed and/or been improved over the last year. Digital screenings that distributors can run from their own websites will continue to grow and despite us all being keen to resume face-to-face meetings, I believe we are now more aware of our global footprint. Certainly for us, it has often been easier to pull together a larger group of executives for key editorial pitches when using video conference than it would be trying to organize the same group all in one room.

What trends are you seeing in customer wish lists for a world in which we start to emerge from the pandemic?
Current trends are driven more by industry changes with the continual increase in streaming platforms; either new global entrants or domestic offerings, which often started their life as a linear broadcaster’s catch-up service. The streaming platforms offer great opportunities for a library like Banijay’s that houses a large number of successful franchises. From the pandemic itself, the biggest trend has been the delivery delays of scripted series – the last to resume production. For those who have been able to deliver scripted that was largely wrapped prior to the pandemic, interest has been high, alongside re-licenses of proven scripted library.

When do you expect to be back in the office and meeting customers in person?
As we are a global operation, it varies. Our distribution head office is in London and in line with the current governmental guidance, we will not return to the office until the end of June, whereas our offices in cities like Sydney, LA and Miami are opened. The most important thing is to keep healthy and follow local guidelines and protocols.

🌶️ Hot ones:

Viewpoint: Five-part ITV drama starring Noel Clarke follows a tense police surveillance investigation of a tight-knit local community.

Inside Chernobyl With Ben Fogle: Adventurer Ben Fogle spends a week living inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Louise Pedersen, CEO, All3Media International

Is MipTV diminishing in importance amid the London Screenings and the rise of direct-to-customer events?
We are only attending Mip Formats and we think that this will be a useful focused event for our team. MipTV has reduced in importance for us over a period of years, partly because of the London TV Screenings event in February but also because we’ve seen benefits from attending either specialist genre-specific markets and festivals or smaller regionally focused markets. We can send smaller teams to these and see good results. The distribution market feels like it has room for one big general market like Mip/Mipcom but not two.

What Covid changes to TV distribution will stand the test of time?
It’ll be interesting to see. Talking across Zoom-style platforms is here to stay. Screening platforms to either launch new shows or give buyers a preview of a show that’s in production will stay. Panels/keynotes that embrace the ability of virtual events to reach a wider audience will stay. What we’ve learned over the past year is that sales meetings don’t always need elaborate and complicated structures to work well. That said, it is much easier to maintain existing contacts online than to make new ones, plus I think we are all missing the deeper sharing of intelligence and news that you get from a face-to-face meeting. We’re a social industry and I think we are all keen to get back to meeting in person.

What trends are you seeing in customer wishlists for a world in which we start to emerge from the pandemic?
It’s changing now we’re one year-plus in — a year ago, comfortable favorites provided reassurance, but the appetite for new is definitely back. It’s A Sin — an emotional drama about the AIDS virus — has proved to be an exceptional talking point and ratings hit for pay, SVoD and public broadcasters; thrillers such as The Drowning have done fantastically; and family drama is also performing well, for example, All Creatures Great and Small. Factual entertainment is popular across all its sub-genres – scandals and crime to rehoming dogs and gardening are all working for us. And formats that can be produced to a range of social distancing requirements are also racking up the numbers.

When do you expect to be back in the office and meeting customers in person?
The health and care of our staff and customers comes first. I think we’ve all learned over the past year not to predict anything – but we hope to open in a limited way for some staff who would like to go into the office in late Spring. Meeting our UK customers over a lunch or drink is looking like a welcome opportunity around then too.

🌶️ Hot ones:

Innocent: From screenwriter Chris Lang, the four-part series stars Katherine Kelly (Cheat) as a teacher at the center of a potential miscarriage of justice.

Too Close: Snowed-In Productions psychological thriller stars Chernobyl’s Emily Watson as a forensic psychiatrist assigned to work with a woman accused of a heinous crime but who claims she can’t remember a thing.

Jens Richter, CEO, Fremantle International

Is MipTV diminishing in importance amid the London Screenings and the rise of direct-to-customer events?
2020 showed us that we can do business outside these traditional markets and festivals – it’s very much a 12-month rolling sales window, which was kicked off by London Screenings. We have to be flexible to the trends and changes in the market and be able to meet our clients’ needs, whenever and wherever they are.

What Covid changes to TV distribution will stand the test of time?
Even when we’re fully back to physical markets, there will always be a virtual element. London Screenings was a great example of that for us this year, we were able to extend our reach with our virtual event and speak to even more buyers than before.

What trends are you seeing in customer wishlists for a world in which we start to emerge from the pandemic?
Climate change is extremely high on the agenda and the environment is a key theme in our growing factual slate — Arctic Drift and Day Zero are just two examples here. We’re also sharing programming covering topical and important issues such as gender, sexuality, race, and youth culture — all of which are of huge interest to buyers.

When do you expect to be back in the office and meeting customers in person?
The safety of our staff and clients is our number one priority, and we are closely monitoring government guidelines to ensure this. We have 10 local sales offices around the world, so in some cases, our people on the ground are already able to be with their clients based on the lifting of local restrictions.

🌶️ Hot ones:

Reyka: Drama series follows a flawed but brilliant criminal profiler, Reyka Gama (Kim Engelbrecht). Haunted by her past, she investigates a string of brutal murders committed by a serial killer in the sugarcane fields of KwaZulu-Natal.

Day Zero: Prestige factual documentary has gathered footage from around the world over a three-year period, capturing stories from the frontline of the water shortage crisis. Chiwetel Ejiofor narrates.

Julie Meldal-Johnsen, EVP global content, ITV Studios

Is MipTV diminishing in importance amid the London Screenings and the rise of direct-to-customer events?
The pandemic has changed the way we think about what we launch and when to be more fluid. But we do greatly miss seeing our contacts face-to-face and when physical markets can be resumed safely, there will obviously continue to be a place for them.

What trends are you seeing in customer wishlists for a world in which we start to emerge from the pandemic?
Demand for all genres of content has increased. But it boiled down to people just craved the same things they always do — great story-telling. If you look at the success of our true crime slate, it’s been phenomenal: The Pembrokeshire Murders from World Productions has become the biggest drama launch on ITV since 2006 with 11.2m in viewers in the first week of broadcast (it also pre-sold to 20+ territories), and The Serpent from Mammoth Screen became BBC iPlayer’s most-watched show since Normal People, with 31 million views. These are not light-hearted shows, they are arresting and dark, but also completely fascinating. We witnessed a real demand for feel-good or escapist programming, like Schitt’s Creek, too. For me, the wishlist would include feel-good, romantic, and escapist titles as well as thrillers.

When do you expect to be back in the office and meeting customers in person?
We are hopeful that we might be back in offices or meeting customers in person at some point this year. It’s been a long time! We are all excited at the thought of face-to-face meetings and seeing our clients again. But it’s a fluid situation and we are obviously following all the government guidelines.

🌶️ Hot ones:

Harry Palmer: The Ipcress File: Joe Cole stars in ITV’s adaptation of Len Deighton’s spy novel The Ipcress File, which inspired the 1965 Michael Caine film of the same name.

Secrets of the Lost Ark: Like A Shot’s series follows an extraordinary quest for the truth about one of history’s most remarkable artifacts.

Tim Gerhartz, SVP global sales, Red Arrow Studios International

Is MipTV diminishing in importance amid the London Screenings and the rise of direct-to-customer events?
The events calendar is certainly undergoing an evolution and we’ve held a number of dedicated virtual client events and showcases including FormatsFest and FictionFest, which have been attended by several hundred clients and have been well received. These are useful additional sales and marketing tools, but we’re very much looking forward to being able to meet our clients again face-to-face — both in their offices and at markets and festivals around the world, once it is safe to do so.

What trends are you seeing in customer wishlists for a world in which we start to emerge from the pandemic?
I think we’ll see an increased demand for social experiment formats in a post-lockdown world as they’ll be an important vehicle for audiences to process what the world has experienced in a light, easy to digest way. For example, as those who needed particular protection during this time, including the elderly, reintegrate themselves back into society, formats such as The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes, originally a Channel 4 series from CPL Productions about the UK’s first-ever restaurant staffed by people living with dementia, and the internationally successful Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, which brings together retirement communities with preschool children, will become particularly pertinent.

🌶️ Hot ones:

Vienna Blood: Crime series follows young doctor Max Liebermann (Matthew Beard) and Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt (Juergen Maurer) as they investigate unusual and disturbing murders.

Stealing The Show!: Based on a format from Florida Entertainment for Germany’s ProSieben, the series reinvents the traditional quiz show format, as three celebrity contestants and a member of the public all compete to win a unique prize — the show itself.

Stuart Baxter, president of international distribution, eOne

Is MipTV diminishing in importance amid the London Screenings and the rise of direct-to-customer events?
MipTV is still valuable for European clients as a live/physical event, more so than a virtual event. However, that said, the London Screenings have been a cornerstone market for many years and will continue to be a tentpole event for us, whether in person or virtual. We’ve invested in building a bespoke platform that enables us to execute branded direct-to-consumer events, which have become invaluable to us especially during these challenging times.

What Covid changes to TV distribution will stand the test of time?
One of the main COVID changes to the TV distribution business that we’ve seen during this unprecedented time is that more traditional broadcasters have accelerated their business into international production and co-productions. With so many local productions affected by the shutdown early in the pandemic, traditional broadcasters had to source content elsewhere which has created more opportunity in the international television landscape.

What trends are you seeing in customer wish lists for a world in which we start to emerge from the pandemic?
Clients are looking for lighter and escapist entertainment like the Jason Priestley-led investigation series Private Eyes, as well as factual programming like Lost Relics of the Knights Templar and Lost Worlds and Hidden Treasures to plug a lot of gaps. We’ve also seen that there is a much more willingness to look at broader sources for content rather than the traditional way of sourcing programs. Buyers are acquiring shows from many more international markets than ever before, like the Australian drama Between Two Worlds and French-produced limited series La Garconne.

When do you expect to be back in the office and meeting customers in person?
We hope to be seeing buyers, partners and colleagues in person soon. While we’re grateful that virtual work has been so dynamic, we are currently aiming for summer or fall in many of our territories but are following guidance carefully as health and safety is our priority.

🌶️ Hot ones:

Cruel Summer: From Jessica Biel and Michelle Purple, the drama takes place over three summers in the 1990s in a small Texas town when a popular teenager, played by Olivia Holt, is abducted.

Arctic Vets: A 10-episode series packed with dramatic and heartwarming stories. Whether they’re rescuing a polar bear in the wild or tending to an Arctic fox in the hospital, the Arctic Vets team will do whatever it takes to save animal lives.

Jonathan Ford, managing director, Abacus Media Rights

Is MipTV diminishing in importance amid the London Screenings and the rise of direct-to-customer events?
We still class MipTV as a key market for us, especially during a lockdown as it helps us reach the clients we haven’t been able to see directly this year. We are aware that as a market it’s changing in format, focus, and participants and we’re looking forward to understanding how it will work in 2022. As a new company, launched in 2020, we didn’t participate in London Screenings but it’s definitely on our radar for 2022.

When do you expect to be back in the office and meeting customers in person?
It’s difficult to predict when the world will be properly opening up again and understandably people will be cautious, but we are looking forward to meeting our clients in person as soon as we possibly can. You really can’t beat face-to-face interaction. Early in May we plan on starting our regular team meetings in London again and we have signed up for Mipcom in October, but we certainly hope to meet a number of our clients in person before this time.

🌶️ Hot ones:

The Masked Dancer: Produced by Bandicoot for UK broadcaster ITV, 12 celebrities perform unique dances, while covered from head to toe in extravagant, colorful costumes and masks.

In The Shadow of 9/11: Dan Reed’s documentary tells the story of the so-called ‘Liberty City Seven’ — a group of young Black men accused of assisting Al Qaeda in a plot to blow up buildings in the U.S.

Vicky Ryan, founder/COO, Rainmaker Content

Is MipTV diminishing in importance amid the London Screenings and the rise of direct-to-customer events?
There’s no argument that MipTV is not what it was – with the increasing profile of the London Screenings in February and the growth of events geared to direct specific customer genre needs and more tailored sales trips by distributors. In the current climate it is becoming more important to look at the ‘cost vs return’ ratios for these events and whilst many companies may just choose to focus on one big market a year in Cannes, Mipcom, we believe there is still a place for a scaled-down MipTV, but of course, this will be dependent on the take-up by buyers/broadcasters etc as we move forward.

What Covid changes to TV distribution will stand the test of time?
Undoubtedly the most noticeable will probably be continued and greater use of today’s communication alternatives that we have all got so used to over the last year. Cutting back on travel unless absolutely necessary will probably be with us for a lot longer too and that can only be a good thing in terms of cost savings, as well as saving the environment. But one would hope that travel to clients and customers will return to whatever ‘normal’ is.

When do you expect to be back in the office and meeting customers in person?
After the summer, Q4 2021, hopefully!

🌶️ Hot ones:

Staged: Lockdown BBC comedy starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen. Can their fragile egos survive working from home and virtual Hollywood?

Professionals: Drama stars Tom Welling as a former counterintelligence officer, who is hired by a billionaire futurist (Brendan Fraser) and his fiancée (Elena Anaya) to investigate the explosion of an advanced medical satellite.

Sarah Tong, director of sales, Hat Trick International

Is MipTV diminishing in importance amid the London Screenings and the rise of direct-to-customer events?
Yes, as well as buyers and sellers communicating so much more easily through advanced technology and therefore the need to travel to expensive markets all over the world is no longer as necessary.

When do you expect to be back in the office and meeting customers in person?
Really hope to be back in the office in June/July and then back doing sales trips from September. We have also already signed up to Mipcom as we hope this will provide a good opportunity to meet buyers (probably mostly European) and connect with the industry as a whole.

🌶️ Hot ones:

Lucy The Human Chimp: Feature documentary recounts the story of a chimpanzee raised as a human and Janis Carter, the woman who took on the task of helping to give her freedom by living with her in the wild. HBO Max has picked up in the U.S.

Johnny Vegas Carry On Glamping: Comedian Johnny Vegas goes high-class camping in this four-part series for Channel 4.

Steve MacDonald, president, global licensing and international, A+E Networks

Is MipTV diminishing in importance amid the London Screenings and the rise of direct-to-customer events?
If there is one thing this year has taught us, it’s that we have all embraced the pivot. When thinking specifically of Mipcom and MipTV, we have been so appreciative that Reed themselves deftly pivoted to virtual events. This enabled us to maintain great continuity in our business during these critical markets. We are planning similar virtual client meetings and engagements for London Screenings and others. We do not know what’s next, of course, we can’t predict. However, we do see a future that holds some combination of virtual and in-person market events. We don’t see a diminishing of markets, just an evolution.

What Covid changes to TV distribution will stand the test of time?
A major goal for the A+E Networks global content sales team leading into 2021 was to optimize our content and get it out to our clients via a premium, best-in-class digital platform. The way we pitch and sell is very targeted — we sell our library content to a variety of clients across linear, non-linear, AVOD, SVOD, and more. Our catalog has tens of thousands of hours, so we needed to find a way to organize everything so that customers and users could go to our site and easily search content that they might need. Even when we begin to meet again in person, we think that utilizing digital sales tools like ours throughout the sales process will replace the more traditional ways of pitching that we used before Covid.

What trends are you seeing in customer wish lists for a world in which we start to emerge from the pandemic?
Throughout 2020 and continuing into 2021, we’ve seen a resurgence of interest in our mega-franchises, which span genres, succeed over many seasons (accumulating hundreds of episodes), and consistently rank among the top programs on their respective networks. Viewers flock to gripping, stand-alone, unscripted stories that can work across the week’s schedule, and A+E Networks is fortunate to have a robust catalog in which these premium stories are well-represented.

We’ve also seen an increased demand for family-friendly, regionally replicable formats, and we’re proud to enter MipTV with a fantastic slate spanning genres that fits this bill. Over the past year we’ve found great success with formats including canine competition Top Dog, the heartwarming relationship series Generation Dating, Assembly Required, and Alone, the ultimate survival competition show. TV movies, for which we’re known across the globe as a distribution powerhouse, remain high on our partners’ wish lists.

🌶️ Hot ones:

History’s Greatest Mysteries Presented by Laurence Fishburne: From Houdini’s final secrets, to the Bermuda Triangle, to Roswell, to the search for Shackleton’s Ice Ship, each documentary or docuseries in this strand brings new evidence and fresh perspectives to the story.

Assembly Required: Competition series that takes place in the home workshops of everyday DIY-ers, who are sent items and tasked to build anything from a mobile BBQ to a two-level dog house to win a cash prize.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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