Viewpoint: TVFI’s Matt Langley on what a revitalized MIPCOM means for the industry

Matt Langley, 30 October 2023
From Realscreen

With official attendance figures from RX France coming in at just over 11,000 attendees, MIPCOM 2023 signalled a return to pre-pandemic activity for both the Cannes market, and segments of the global screen content business itself. And perhaps the sector seeing the biggest benefit from an industry that is still in flux is distribution. Here, TVF International sales exec Matt Langley (pictured, left) reflects on the mood of the market and what it might mean for the immediate future.

With a packed Palais and the highest number of attendees since the pandemic, MIPCOM 2023 was our busiest ever at TVF International. As an independent distributor, this was fantastic news following what has felt like a few years of distance from broadcasters and producers. But is this the sign of a miraculous market recovery amid post-COVID chaos, economic downturns and industry strikes? Are we really “out of the woods?”

We brought 10 sales executives to the market, who held back-to-back meetings from Monday through Wednesday as well as overflow meetings on Thursday and the pre-opening Sunday, which is now a staple day for meetings too; a necessary chance to discuss new programs in proper depth with legacy partners before the market chaos begins. The blur of face-to-face meetings led to a dizzying high of optimism and opportunity, but there was also a sense of uncertainty in the air.

It was great to see our Asian broadcasters and producers out in force, with China being this year’s country of honour at MIPCOM. Asia is one of our biggest territories for both acquisitions and sales, so we were delighted to see such a strong contingent from the continent after many executives’ international travel had been curtailed by the pandemic in recent years. It was also refreshing to meet with significantly more broadcast partners from the Middle East and Canada than last year. Although it was a terrible shame not to see any of our clients and partners attending from Israel, the increased footfall and face-to-face meetings can only be good for a market recovering from major setbacks, and the sense of a collective push to get this industry back on the road is palpable.

We feel the best way to gauge the prospects of an ailing industry is to assess our broadcasters and buyers’ demands. Are they looking for blue-chip premium titles, relying more on high volume series, or venturing further into VOD and FAST?

We found that, in the factual space, buyers are still primarily looking for premium series, with our heartland genres of science, wildlife and history proving ever popular. But elsewhere in unscripted, high-volume lifestyle, travel and food titles were in demand — less so for pay TV than in previous years, with the interest coming increasingly from VOD and FAST. This seems unsurprising with an industry tightening its belt in costs and taking more risks in the streaming stratosphere. Where pay TV is concerned, it is all about series and formats that are returnable, repeatable and franchise-friendly, to combat rising production costs.

However, amid financial turbulence across all buyers, true crime continues to be a genre that bridges broadcast mediums. It is in demand everywhere you look. For example, two of our titles in the genre, the four-parter The Negotiators International and our investigative cryptocurrency doc The Bitcoin Kid, were some of our top requested titles at the market, with interest from legacy public broadcasters, global pay TV, VOD streamers and FAST channels alike.

We returned from the market with a pipeline of shows bursting at the seams. Producers are out in their masses with a lot to contribute in the contemporary and ancient history space, as well as true crime and wildlife. This is an evident response to the market and shows that communication and re-engagement is seeing production matching its demands.

But of course, there is a conspicuous cautiousness from commissioners, particularly in the U.S. This is becoming a real challenge for indie producers who have to rely more on distributors and coproductions to get projects off the ground. The predicted boost in global appetite for factual due to the writers’ and actors’ strikes in the U.S. hasn’t yet kicked in, but if SAG-AFTRA continues to walk the picket line there may still be opportunities as broadcaster pipelines run dry in 2024 and beyond.

Ultimately, it was great to see MIPCOM alive and bustling again — especially when enjoying a glass of Pimm’s at our stand, or celebrating recent deals with clients over drinks and dinners throughout the week.

But while MIPCOM is back to its busy best, there is a sense that we are not at the end of the tunnel yet. There is a lot of work to be done, and also a lot of uncertainty. But there is nothing more emboldening than meeting with peers from across the globe and witnessing a collective push from independent producers and distributors to get our industry back on the road.