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Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

MIPCOM: What I Learned at the Cannes Market. Reality vs Co-pro’s. BRICs Rising. Facebook Next? + Sales Takeaways

For my first 20+ years of attending MIPs, a lot of the dealmaking was concentrated in the lounges of the Majestic and the other grand hotels along the Croisette.

It seemed like the bars were packed with encampments of suits who fought to close deals for the platforms and channels that they were planning to launch.

Surrounding them were producers and distributors who sought large-scale deals to populate the schedules of the new channels.

And this year? The Majestic was vibe-less!


It’s partially because ReedMidem has pushed non-registered attendees out of the hotels and into the Roma and other nearby coffee bars.

But there’s more going on here than badge-control. The empty Majestic reflects forces at work in our increasingly mature and less ‘Anglo Saxon-dominated’ industry…

1.       There are many fewer co-pro slots to be filled

  • Content-driven specials, limited series and docs are in rapid decline across the U.S. channel landscape. “Evaporation” is a word that comes to mind.
    • These slots have been widely replaced by character-driven reality series that are all about “Nonscripted Entertainment” and that don’t register on the “Content” axis.
  • European producers and networks used to count on their U.S. copro partners to contribute some 40% to the budgets of their content-driven co-productions.
    • Japan, Australia and Canada often rounded out the deal.
    • But with U.S. partners not at the table, these co-pro deals are simply not happening at anything like the same frequency!
    • So why go to the Majestic?

Shifting model

  • A+E Networks has overtaken and lapped Discovery Networks in the race for the #1 player in the U.S. nonscripted universe.
    • And unlike networks which tolerate copro’s, A+E sings from the work-for-hire hymn book.
    • The trend from copro to buyout is another reason why the pipeline of deals is shrinking, and why there are empty tables at the Majestic.
  • At MIPCOM we did meet U.S. networks that actively acquire and co-produce content-driven specials and series, like Discovery’s Military Channel and CBS’s Smithsonian Channel.
      • They are small, if expanding niche players with modest budgets.
      • They don’t offer the scale to offset the many bigger players who have made the switch from “Factual Content” to “Nonscripted Entertainment.”

2.       The global branding boom is over!

  • The global channels landscape is populated with well-established Factual brands, like Discovery and Nat Geo.
  • There are few major business development efforts under way to create new global channel brands and to secure supply for these new channels.
    • Scripps Networks, led by our friend Greg Moyer is an important exception
    • The latest wave of networks tends to be comprised of regional niche channels that either buy catalogs, for example of Lifestyle programs, or they produce locally
    • The best of this content does find its way out to the regional and international markets.
  • Most of these channels are launched by regional players rather than by the U.S. operators who led the original global charge into multi-channel investment, and who filled those hotel bars and lobbies during earlier markets.

And domestic programming strategy is creating international complications:

  • As a rule, Entertainment-driven factual series that are built around larger-than-life American characters are not as appealing to international partners as content-driven programs.
  • A frequently heard question at MIPCOM:
    • How will Discovery, A+E and other U.S.-based channels feed their affiliates outside the U.S.?

3.       Here come the BRICs. And the little BRICs.

  • Brazil. Russia. China. Plus Turkey. Singapore. Malaysia. And more.
    • They enjoy booming and relatively youthful economies.
    • And several of them, like China and Brazil present major scale.
  • These markets sent many more delegations than 5-10 years ago. Here’s a rough count from a pair of directories on my bookshelf:




























Source: MIPCOM Directories

  • Many countries like Singapore were organized with comfortable, common meeting areas in the Palais. (Singapore’s delegation was led by the Media Development Authority, a valued client.)
  • The BRICs and Little BRICs are developing local and regional series, including hits.
    • And they are expanding their global footholds via branded channels and program sales.
  • China remains a big unknown.  Or rather the signals are confusing.
    • We hear that PRC policy makers are intent on modernizing their factual niche to match the standing of their animation and feature sectors.
    • Will any non-Chinese be invited to sit at the nonscripted table? We continue to watch closely!

4.       Public TV: Woes everywhere. But Germany thrives!

  • BBC programming is absorbing a 20%+ hit.
  • PBS, CBC, ABC and others struggle to remain competitive.
  • Germany is the world’s highest-spending public television market:
    • We were told “more than 6 billion Euros this year.”
    • Most of the spend is local and regional: But there is real scale and quality at the top for high-end series and specials.
    • There are opportunities here for global partners.
    • Watch out for future coverage of Germany’s factual sector in

5.       Facebook Apps: A game changer on the horizon?

  • Eagle Rock Entertainment’s Peter Worsley pointed to Miramax eXperience as a potential game changer.
  • Miramax eXperience is the 1ststreaming movie app that integrates a video player into the universally-distributed Facebook platform.
    • Consumers pay for downloads via Facebook credits.
  • Worsley sees Facebook apps for streaming premium content as a huge opportunity for Factual filmmakers who, like musicians will have the capability to market and distribute their works direct to consumers.


by David Cornwall, Scorpion TV (UK)

MIPCOM felt good this year. The directory was nice and thick– always a telltale sign – and there seemed to be plenty of new buyers from new territories and platforms. Here are my impressions by territory…


The broadcasters we met had dedicated documentary slots with special weekly slots for award-winning features. Current affairs, Human Interest and Popular Science seemed to be the most popular themes. No particular interest in Lifestyle content but one broadcaster had a prominent Travel / Adventure slot.

The DVD market in Australia still seems to be strong with one buyer particularly looking for series that have aired in the territory and who had a very impressive marketing operation to drive sales across all platforms.

We also met an educational DVD buyer who was looking for content for schools as well as quality university level docs. This meant less Human Interest and more factual content around the subjects of Engineering, Architecture, Management and Creative Arts. They were also looking to acquire VOD and streaming rights (more of a given these days)


We met quite a few buyers looking for clips for their productions on Japanese TV.

  • The clip show format seems to be a perennial in Japan and they often have weekly shows as well as specials 2 or 3 times a year.
  • Anything shocking or unusual seems to work but there was also a request for heartwarming stories in a short format.
  • They were also interested in editing down docs into a format that could fit into these shows.

Regards long form, the Japanese market remains quite tough but the public broadcasters do look for international stories, especially related to Current Affairs. So  events in the Middle East and the globalization theme are of interest.


Met quite a few VOD buyers, which seems to be very popular in Korea – more so than in the West which is catching up. These platforms are normally operated to the telco’s or by broadcasters.

  • Topics vary but there seems to be a thirst for documentaries as they look to broaden their output from U.S. dominated films and series.


India seems to be opening up and looking for more outside content. Many new channels have launched recently – particularly joint ventures with established U.S. networks. The channel we spoke to broadcasts in English and is looking for content for a younger demo to offer to their 25 million potential viewers – which is actually quite small in a population of 1BN.

Middle East

We met several pan-regional buyers and Current affairs, Human Interest and Educational content are of most interest here. If it’s related to the Middle East, then even better! Documentaries seem to be an important part of most schedules in this region. We found less interest in Lifestyle and travel content.


There are plenty of opportunities, and many broadcasters seem to be launching new off-shoots on cable and satellite. These vary from Culture to Science, but at least there are more options. Human Interest is always popular here – particularly brand new takes on subjects and unusual topics. Also lots of opportunity for Arts, Music and Culture docs. We also met producers of weekly magazines looking for Current Affairs. History and WW2 remain popular – although it seems harder to find topics not already covered. The main activity here seemed to be from France, Germany and Spain. We also met a number of VOD providers, both pan-regional and country-specific who were offering license fees that may complement any money made from a TV sale.

Latin America

The big brands seem to dominate the pan regional space in Latin America.  But there are lots of channels, so there is plenty of opportunity for Lifestyle and female oriented programming. We met one buyer who was also looking for male skewing docs for the region. Generally docs have to be very strong to punch their weight in quite drama driven schedules.


Not many doc buyers in attendance at MIP from the States. The juggernauts dominate the factual space with their own productions and there remain a few beacons for independent docs across the schedules.

In Canada we found the market to be healthy for docs on both TV and DVD. Family values content is popular in Canada, with at least two channels in this space. There are also channels looking for male skewing HD content in the nature, arts and human interest area. This is also, of course, a popular market for good French-speaking content.


South Africa is the main territory here for sales although new spaces for docs are opening up in Kenya, Morocco and elsewhere. We met a digital South African channel looking for content on African History and also adventure and crime content.

Producers looking to exploit their content internationally or wishing to know more should contact David at