Television executives and programme distributors are converging on Cannes in the south of France this week for the MIPTV programme market. This is one of the main markets at which many of the programmes we see on our television screens are bought and sold. Over 1,200 international television production companies are expected to attend. Will new distribution platforms offer new opportunities for those at markets such as this, or redefine them altogether?
Many of the deals may actually be done beforehand, but it is at markets like this that companies aim to find funding, promote their programmes and make big announcements.
In theory, this could all be done elsewhere or remotely but this is a people business and people like to meet and talk, especially in places like Cannes. Who can blame them?
This, we are reminded, is an international creative industry, founded on craft skills and talent. This is show business. It is all about ideas and entertainment. Distribution is about deals rather than technology.
Nevertheless there are also new distribution platforms to deal with, in the form of Netflix, Google, Amazon, Hulu and even Facebook. Some of them are also becoming producers, commissioning original programming.
Speaking in a MIPCube session on future technology, Anthony Rose, the co-founder of Zeebox, offered a vision of television that may be disturbing to the established stakeholders. He predicted: “In the future, your TV will be a dumb high-res panel that will play the content that it’s told by your smartphone or tablet.”
Indeed, in the future, it may be less important which broadcaster or distributor has which programmes, in a world in which viewers can simply order them up online. After all, this is already largely possible with music and will increasingly be the case with movies and books. Television may be no different.
For the moment, at least, the television programme industry is deeply invested in and territorially protective of its current way of doing business, which remains very lucrative for many and comparatively difficult for others to enter. These factors may be connected. The challenge is that televisions themselves will be increasingly connected to the internet.
One executive at a major independent production and distribution company we spoke to recently was apparently appalled at the idea of embracing connected television and establishing a direct relationship with the viewer. At least one major independent production group is already experimenting with just that model, although the difficulties of doing so should not be underestimated.
It is clearly easier to have a few meetings and do around fifty deals to achieve international distribution than to market programmes individually to individual viewers.
Broadcast channels currently have a key role to play in aggregating, promoting and presenting programmes, creating audience interest in their particular territories.
How long will it be, however, before multinational companies with very deep pockets can afford to come to markets like this and simply buy the rights for worldwide distribution on their global platforms?