MIPCOM: Africa almost a “no-show” – time for a continental stand

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Last week Balancing Act’s Sylvain Beletre attended MIPCOM 2009, the international event for co-producing, buying and selling media content, held in Cannes, France, 5-9 October 2009. He went in search of news that might be useful for those working in the African industry.

African exhibitors were almost absent from the trade floor except for South Africa's National Film & Video Foundation (nfvf) which facilitated South Africa's presence in the market via the provision of a South African pavilion.

Jacques Stolz, Snr. Marketing Manager from gfc, the Gaunteng Film Commission in SA, and Brugert Muller, exec. producer of Franz Marx Films were on the booth promoting recent productions. Jason Probert, Head of New Media at M-Net and Endemol South Africa Managing Director Sivan Pillay also made appearances at the nfvf booth.

Dan Jawitz, a Producer from Fireworx (drama and documentaries) marketed his company's new content. In partnership with Black Rage Productions, Fireworx Media produces all the magazine and current affairs reports from South Africa for Trace TV. Trace is distributed via satellite on pay TV platforms in 140 countries, and currently claims to be the leading music/youth channel in Africa.

According to the organisers, Africans only accounted to about 1+% of total exhibitors attendance. On the buyers front, delegates from Africa and Middle East accounted for about 9% of the total. The majority of interviewed delegates attributed two reasons which can explain these low attendance figures: the high cost of travelling to Cannes, and the fact that Africa now has its own content trade events such as DISCOP Africa.

Nevertheless the event was a unique viewpoint from which to spot trends that may help African producers:

In this unique environment, MIPCOM is also known to help identifying trends forecasting.

Balancing-Act Africa perceived several global trends that would apply to the African AV marketplace:

*Opportunity in Green productions: MIPCOM booths exhibited a plethora of new production and initiatives looking at the green issues and social responsibilities to save the Earth "now before it is too late", and to differentiate themselves.

Several Producers provided green materials including some truly remarkable documentaries about climate change and environtmental problems: 2 years after "an inconvenient truth" from Davis Guggenheim with former United States Vice President Al Gore, "Home" from Yann Arthus Bertrand (more than 4 Million viewers on youtube so far) and "Syndrome du Titanic" from Nicolas Hulot and Jean-Albert Lièvre which include shots from Africa made quite a bit of noise.

To support journalists, World Television launched climatetalks.tv, an online video news portal for this event earlier this week. In Paris, Ecoprod (www.ecoprod.info), a grouping of media companies such as TF1 that looks at environmental solutions for production and broadcast companies was also present.

Eurosport is building a new low emission HD studio, and Vancouver studios (VSF) have displayed carbon neutrality to better market themselves as green studios. Several media houses gave tools for how to go greener: Warner Bros Studios environmental initiatives, the California Film Commission's Green Resource Guide, Environmental Engagement from NewsCorp, FOX Green Guide, Greening the screen, a practical environmental toolkit for the screen production industry, Environmental Media Association, and MFP3 an M Productions Company.

*More freedom for viewers: 2009 is a turning point for the shift to digital, allowing, in the long run, viewers to skip ads and customise the content they want to see.

*Formats stay popular: Formats continue to have a strong innings. Kelly Wright from Armoza highlighted several formats that could benefit African channels and their audience in supporting education and creativity in Africa. Earlier this year, 2waytraffic, a Sony Pictures Entertainment company, has sold a trio of its popular and well established formats, Pyramid, 50-50 and Russian Roulette, to Egyptian broadcaster, ERTU. The sale comes amid increased demand from broadcasters for reliable formats with a proven track record.

*New Ads: TV and Radio Ad spent has dropped from 10 to 20% compared to 2008, but online advertising is the only sector experiencing five-year linear growth. The AV advertising World is trying to reinvent itself to make ads more effective. “Advice to brands: If it’s not about the audience, it isn’t branded content. Advice to producers: brands are not attached to single TV shows.” said Morgan Holt, Chairman, Branded Content Marketing Association, London.

*Platform explosion: BBC tech boss Erik Huggers' presentation called Broadcasting In The Digital Age, Huggers said: "the challenges facing broadcasters as the pace of change accelerates, and how they must evolve to ensure a consistent experience across all platforms - without compromising quality." As part of this new direction, DTT channels in France have for example started working on co-productions.

Telecoms operators are a key partner to broadcaster' digital switch, and companies such as Orange, TeliaSonera and T-Systems were also present to promote their media solutions.

*Cutting Costs: Broadcasters are restructuring, reducing overheads, renegotiating contracts, paying less for content (decrease between 5 and 25% for TV rights over the last 12 months in the Western World), and avoiding risk as the crunch intensifies, but it’s useful to hear funding gurus predicting what this means for the future.

At the conference "TV Financing": The Big Picture, European media consultant Guillaume de Posch listed the ways in which broadcasters were slashing their budgets. But when asked how many bankruptcies he anticipated among European broadcasters, he robustly answered “Zero”. He qualified this by saying that he expected some broadcasters would be “massively re-capitalised,” and further consolidation was inevitable.

*Digital technology for selling rights: After years of defensiveness, key players are this year much keener to look into online tools to seek partners, whether they are producers, investors, broadcasters or distributors. Platforms such as MPX from Mediapeers, gettyimages.com or Showrights are due to save massive travel expenses for buyers, investors and sellers. As Mediapeers' Holger Hendel put it: "this business is about face to face relationships, but our solution is complementary."

Partnering with local telecoms operators is also high on the agenda of most key broadcasters.

What about Africa?: This year, there was more focus on emerging markets and the BRIC markets were often mentioned during speeches (particularly Brazil, India and China) but there was also strong interest in and curiosity about Africa. Some attendees mentioned a serious interest in African documentaries, long films, animations and of course coverage of the FIFA WC. When going around booths and asking questions related to Africa, many professionals admitted that they do not know much about the continent but would love to find out more.

MIPCOM is attended by passionate people from around the World looking for and offering finance for films. It would therefore make sense for African professionals to get together and set up a pan-African booth at MIPCOM 2010.