More than an expensive meal, a MIP dinner is rife with perils and pitfalls on the road to landing a deal. Two seasoned MIP winers and diners who’ve weathered many of these hazards, one as a buyer, the other as a seller, dissect the anatomy of this ritual.
While MIP continues to provide the official forum for television executives to acquire and sell new kid- and family-oriented series and specials, the real backstage work is more likely than not to take place over a white tablecloth and a glass of red wine. A meal between a seller and prospective buyer is more than just an opportunity to engage in a large dollop of hedonism; it can hold the promise of a successful deal or the disappointment of a lost opportunity. As such, it is an occasion that requires a great deal of preparation, perceptiveness and, on occasion, a hefty expense account.
Managing to effectively plan MIP dinners between buyers and sellers can be more challenging than obtaining Canadian tax-shelter monies for a new children’s series-faxes and phone calls not withstanding. Given that we’re all eager to obtain the correct amount of points and quotas to start our next hot children’s co-production, both sellers and buyers will go to great lengths to ensure they are dining with an appropriate party. Dinners can be used as quality time before closing a deal, an opportunity to delve into the underlying value of one’s programs, or simply an occasion to further your knowledge of a potential partner.
While it may sound like a no-brainer, plan to have dinners with people whom you cannot usually see. Familiarity breeds not only contempt, but laziness too-people from the same companies, or cities, can often be seen eating together in Cannes, a practice that must at all costs be avoided at MIP. The event should instead be viewed as an opportunity to develop new contacts and socialize with people you usually may not have access to.
To begin with, the setting of the dinner should never be underestimated. The majority of restaurants resemble a Greek amphitheater in their ability to carry the details of a contract to the ears of a competitor on the other side of the room. Intimacy also enters into the realm of deal-making; this means that ‘off-piste’ local restaurants may be a better pick than the latest trendy restaurant that offers about as much intimacy as the Brooklyn Bridge. As an added bonus, taking a buyer or seller somewhere new and fresh reveals a certain originality and underlines the importance you attach to the deal at hand.
While your company’s expense account may not flinch should you decide to entertain a 15-person dinner party, your ability to concentrate on all present will be hovering somewhere above zero. Watch the guest list, limiting it to those who make the decisions and genuinely represent interested parties. And do try to develop some sensitivity to the mix `n’ match of various nationalities that come to MIP. The two great driving forces behind the creation of the European Union, France and Germany, not surprisingly, also make for terrific dinner companions-on the proviso that you don’t begin to talk about E.U. agricultural policies. And be warned, those hailing from the U.K. prefer to be sold to, or bought from, on their own, to a certain degree reflecting their physical isolation from the rest of Europe.
Attempting to foist Bambi down the throat of a potential buyer before he or she has had time to taste the lobster soup is a thoroughly unwise decision. After hearing innumerable pitches, a buyer would kill to get some well-earned respite from another aural barrage. These discussions can unfold more naturally as dinner goes on, since both parties are fully aware of why they are having dinner together in the first place.
Whether you are buying or selling, you are attempting to bring the person concerned on board, making him or her privy to the vision behind your programs and the passion therein. Deals can fail or succeed based almost entirely on the relationship between the parties involved. It isn’t all ‘up close and personal,’ however, because without doing your homework, making the necessary calls and actually finding out whether your charming dinner date is interested in what you have, or vice versa, your Euro150 Moet-Chandon is going to taste awfully flat.
Paul J. Newman, VP of family entertainment, acquisitions
and production for Columbia TriStar Home Video in Culver City, California, does not recommend bringing your team of power lawyers to the table for creating that intimate atmosphere. In a ‘when in Rome’ vein, Alexander Drosin, head of television for New York-based Golden Books Family Entertainment, recommends availing oneself, liberally, of the fruits of the local vintners’ efforts.