CANNES: The recurring question that gets whispered throughout the intense booth hopping and quick corridor encounters that are as much a part of the twice-yearly Cannes television market as the signing of deals usually revolves around what may be the next programming sensation-which is not surprising since this is, after all, a market where television programs are bought and sold.
This year, the talk was different.
It had less to do with programming, and more to do with the bigger broadcast picture. The buzz among those involved in children’s television was dominated by speculation over the global expansion plans and influence of such broadcast services as The Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Fox Kids Network. The presence of licensing and merchandising people, toy manufacturers and marketing executives was more than an undercurrent.
U.S. television entertainment is about to splash into Europe in a much bigger way, through cable and satellite and an accompanying barrage of promotional and marketing support programs, the likes of which Europeans have vaguely understood but never directly experienced. At least not to the extent that they soon will. European broadcasters are clearly bracing themselves for the show, even though they’re still not exactly sure how it’s going to play.
This newly competitive European landscape is creating opportunities not just for broadcasters, but for U.S. producers as well. And one of those poised to step aggressively into the international arena is Los Angeles-based Film Roman.
In mid-market, over coffee and croissants-barely two days after the studio responsible for such animated shows as C-Bear & Jamal, Bruno The Kid and Felix The Cat offered about 33 percent of its shares to the public-executives Neil Court, a London-based consultant to Film Roman, and Jacki Blum, senior vice president, worldwide licensing and marketing, discussed the company’s growth plans.
One of the reasons Film Roman went public was to raise money to develop more proprietary properties, thus giving the company a broader base from which to build its own international licensing and merchandising programs. Blum says she is setting up a network of agents across Europe to help execute global marketing campaigns.
At the same time, Film Roman is talking to a host of potential co-production partners in Asia and Europe to bring more product on board as well as lessen its dependence on the domestic U.S. market.
Licensing is the real box office for television shows, says Court, who, before signing on with Film Roman, spent about five years with Nelvana helping to develop its European business.
‘We hope to get our big home runs from licensing and merchandising,’ says Court. ‘And the Europeans are receptive to [discussing licensing and merchandising programs] more than they’ve ever been. The broadcasters want to know if there is a master toy licensee on board. They suddenly understand the importance of building a noise level around a show. They are interested in knowing about all the marketing tools that are going to be available to them.’
Court says he’s noticed this change taking place among European broadcasters only within the past few years.
‘There is a new breed of TV executive in Europe. No one’s precious anymore. They’re ready to talk down-and-dirty ratings. They are competitive and commercial, and they realize that they must be, or they will die.’
The buzz has changed.