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Is digital finally taking off for TV producers?

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12 October 2012

Digital was one of the hot topics of conversation at this year’s Mipcom, with British producers reporting the beginnings of a significant market for digital content.

YouTube's Robert Kyncl (above) used the TV programme market as a platform to unveil 60 new channels, many of them from UK production outfits such as All3Media, Shine, Hat Trick, BBC Worldwide, Fresh One and Base79.

And Jason Kilar, the chief executive of online TV service Hulu, said in a keynote address that his company has spent $500m on content this year. To underline this, Hulu announced during the market that it was co-producing James Corden’s next comedy project with the BBC.

The big, set piece announcements were spilling over into business along the Croisette too.

Sally Miles, boss of distributor Passion Pictures, says her company was “35% up in terms of digital meetings this market”, adding that digital was likely to start to become a significant revenue stream next year.

Out of the 4,400 buyers at the market, 500 said they were making dedicated VoD acquisitions according to Mipcom figures.

There was a sense that YouTube’s announcement, in particular, could be game changer for the industry.

Producers who are involved in the channels admit they do not expect to make significant money from them in the next three years.

One says that YouTube offered $800k – the budget for one factual TV series – to provide a year’s worth of content for a channel, explaining that user generated content and clever planning would be the only way to make it work financially.

But many believe the investment in money, time and energy will pay off in the long run.

And they are often placing bets on the YouTube channel strategy as a result of observing the viewing behaviour of their own young children, noting that kids prefer to go online to search for and watch clips and shows they are interested in rather than tuning into channels like their parents.

Zodiak Media chief executive David Frank, speaking at a presentation to journalists about his company’s strategy, flagged up that Zodiak was launching a number of channels with YouTube and said he was confident that it would “see the benefits of collaborating” with the online video giant.

Elsewhere in Mipcom there were plenty of producers and sales executives pitching digital projects. I met up with Genevieve Dexter, the CEO of Serious Lunch, who was looking to drum up interest in Cr3eator, an online/TV project from creative content company Animal Vegetable Mineral. Cr3ator allows kids to build virtual robots and then battle with rivals online. The winners get the chance to go into the TV studio, where their robots are projected in augmented reality and they fight using Wii-like kinetic energy technology.

Dexter describes it as a digital version of Robot Wars – albeit one where you don’t need a dad who is handy in the shed. The project has already raised significant funding from South Korea and the UK to build the online platform and to make the augmented reality work.

But why are the South Koreans investing in a British digital project, when they have such a strong reputation for technology themselves?

Dexter says that it’s because the UK has such a good reputation internationally for storytelling and narrative, as well as for developing ground-breaking technology.

Her point was backed up by conversations with other British producers and distributors at Mipcom. You could detect a real sense of confidence amongst the British contingent, who were clearly buoyed by continued global demand for their formats, factual shows and drama. Indeed, producers alliance Pact released figures during Mipcom to show that British TV exports were up 9% in 2011.

Argonon chief executive James Burstall thinks that the Olympics has had a positive impact on the UK’s creative reputation at Mipcom too. The opening ceremony of the Games, he notes, underlined Britain’s ability to deliver huge projects on time and budget that tell a story and have a strong heart.

Elsewhere, there was strong evidence of the film industry muscling into television territory. Legendary film producer Harvey Weinstein was in Mipcom to unveil The Weinstein Company’s plans to grow its TV business with the likes of drama series Marco Polo, reality series Supermarket Superstars, documentary series Seal Team Six and new project the World Dance Awards, a live TV event with Michael Flately.

In a keynote speech, Weinstein explained his motives thus: “TV is such an exciting area at the moment and movies are shrinking to some extent. So it’s the right time for us to get into TV in a big way.”

Kevin Spacey and director Jane Campion were also at Mipcom to plug TV projects. Campion was promoting her first foray into TV, the drama series Top of the Lake. And Spacey was plugging the re-make of the classic 1990 British mini-series The House of Cards, directed by David Fincher.

And, as if neatly to confirm the growth of digital platforms, The House of Cards is being made for Netflix.

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