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Diary of a MipTV virgin

Never been to the MipTV programme market? Neither had Richard Shaw until this week. Lion Television’s head of development relives his first visit to Cannes and offers up advice for any other programme maker thinking of making the trip.

The news is in, I'm off to Cannes. Rachel - the marketing head at ALL3MEDIA International (our sister company within ALL3MEDIA) wants me to pimp our slate at MipTV, hurrah! At last! Having watched my colleagues troop off to the South of France every year for a decade, it's now my turn. A few of my peers snort with derision at the prospect of a two-day jolly in the sun - those are the guys who've never been. The older and wiser ones reach out with a pitying look in their eyes.

Our Head of History tries to warn me. His enduring memory of one Mip is manning a stand for 12 hours a day opposite a Bulgarian porn distributor. It was all very distracting he says - but it falls on deaf ears as I've got visions of lazy croissants in chic cafes and glittering parties on vast gin palaces bobbing in a crystal clear bay. "Oooo, Cannes" my friends trill "are you getting an award?" "No, no, it's just business, a few appointments you know". I'm starting to hate myself - the truth is I can't wait, and who knows there might even be an award maybe?

For some reason the taxi hurtles straight past the Hotel Splendid on the seafront. There's obviously been a mistake. We seem to be speeding out of Cannes very fast, heading in entirely the wrong direction. Four miles away I'm dropped at a two-star Aparthotel in a room with three beds, a non-functioning kitchen and walls made of paper mâché. There's no bar, no food or towels. I hear whispers from the next door room: "It's fine, it's just somewhere to sleep, isn't it?" "No it isn't!!!!" I scream inwardly. There's a shuttle bus to the Palais but it never comes, so I grab a cab with a Nigerian producer and two Dutch drama executives and wide-eyed we arrive at the Palais without so much a photographer or a red carpet in sight.

The Palais is a teeny bit disappointing. Let's be frank, it's a monstrosity. A great white ghastly 70's-inspired civic horror. I think they should push it into the sea and start again. It's teaming with thousands of men all dressed in identical grey suits (no ties) stabbing furiously at their blackberries. A schedule is pressed into my hands with 37 appointments over two days in half-hour intervals from 8.30am to 6.30pm, mostly with people I've never heard of. There are three parties this evening and not one is on a boat.

The Marketing Madame appears and tells me that I'm inappropriately dressed and the hot leathers will have to go as she fears I am about to faint. She tells me that I appear to be frying in the sun, produces a bottle of factor 50 from her handbag smears me up and points me in the direction of a two TV cameras. 'Say something interesting about the Royal Family ' she urges (to support Royal Upstairs Downstairs, a fine show of ours). I have absolutely no idea what I'm supposed to say so I make something up. Everybody seems pleased. "You were marvellous darling" says the press banshee (I am allowed to call her that as she calls herself it first…). I'm very suspicious, that's my line when it's all going a bit eggy on location.

She shuffles me into a corner, "Darling, we know you do ‘great’ content - but this is MIP and now you are going to encounter the commodity aspect of the business… I'll get you some sales figures and we'll probably make an announcement later". I nod, I still have no idea what she's talking about. There are two more interviews to be done and a photoshoot, I look like a boiled beetroot and I have the coffee shakes

I go off hunting for the Bulgarian porn producers wearing an ONLY WAY IS ESSEX baseball cap (that banshee again) but very disappointingly they don't seem to be attending this year. I'm in a frighteningly important meeting with someone senior from Nat-Geo when four virtually naked men wander past the stand - perhaps these are the Bulgarian porn stars? They turn out to be Jamie, Samy, Vaughan and Marc from 'The Hunks' a new Sky Living show "aimed at women and gay men aged 18 to 34". I'm devastated that I'm outside their demographic, but incredibly impressed that they know their audience so precisely. I have something to learn from these nearly-naked guys.

Meetings segue seamlessly into each other. I'm losing touch with reality. I'm in awe of the older hands who can switch between discussions about extended rights packages and territorial windows effortlessly. Does anyone care about the programmes I wonder. There's a large sign that keeps blinking at me from the stand opposite 'It's The Content That Counts!' it says. I'm less and less sure that anyone means that. My boss produces a flyer for what seems like the most perfect show - it's about Roller Skating Babies, apparently it's a global phenomenon, I want to see it.

Quality factual, it is clear, is still hugely strong. We’re negotiating pre-sales for a series about Venice’s emergency services and meeting broadcasters who have an interest in East to West, our big new blue chip series. The Spice Trail distribution starts to get some traction and one of our most impressive salesmen reveals that buyers in some territories are outbidding each other for it. I have a small single passion-project, a half-finished documentary that everyone seems to love. The All3Media International distribution machine is an oasis of focussed determined professionalism, the stand is humming with buyers. We meet Austrians and Japanese, French, Koreans and Australians, they're all delightful, polite and encouraging - and they love Venice Emergency Services showreel. The big brains of the Smithsonian Channel and German factual co-producers are impressively blue chip and ambitious, while the Discovery Channel suite and BBC Worldwide enclosures are well-funded empires of cool professionalism.

The two days are a blur. My boss' computer is stolen from his bag and he loses 300 Euros somewhere. We alternate between Cafe Roma on the main square and the warren of small booths in the basement of the Palais. Then suddenly we're in a cab back on the way back to the airport, we look at each other and review - and actually, it worked, sort of. Despite the flocks of besuited men the corridors actually felt quieter than I expected, the meetings were sometime polite hellos rather than hardcore business, but remarkably we've made some pre-sales. We've restarted some stalled projects. And we've met some of the biggest names in factual commissioning.

Cannes is a scrum. It's full of very focussed determined buyers and sellers who have successfully commoditised content, and it's an alien planet for many programme makers but I'm glad to have seen it. Would I come back? Yes for sure. Would I be more targeted in who I met? Most definitely. Will I wear a suit next time? No. I shall take some inspiration from The Hunks, they know their audience.

Posted 07 April 2011 by Richard Shaw
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