The empty corridors of the Cannes Palais and the empty tables at the Majestic, Carlton and Grand Hotel tell the story: MIPTV, once an essential stop for anyone and everyone in the international TV business, is in trouble.
This year's MIP, which wraps today, was notable for what it lacked: big new series (History Channel's Knights Templar drama Knightfall was the only major U.S. show with a MIP 2017 premiere); big name execs (Roy Price, head of global content at Amazon Prime Video was the only A-list suit around); and big deals. The U.S. studios, which have been dialing back their presence here for the last few years, were almost nowhere to be found. With the L.A. Screenings - the May event where the U.S. studios present their new pilots to international buyers - just weeks away, many of the big players have decided to miss MIP.
"It's been fine for us, but the foot traffic is way down. You can see it's not a priority for the studios," says Jan Frouman, CEO of global production group Red Arrow, whose shows include Amazon Prime's Bosch and reality TV format Married at First Sight.
Booths for the likes of NBCUniversal, Warner and Sony were manned by a skeleton staff and would likely have been shuttered entirely if the majors weren't worried about keeping their slots for Cannes' more important MIPCOM market in the fall.
"Dying? That's an understatement. It's already dead," said one Asian-based studio exec. "Half of my clients didn't come. If they come to one MIP, it will be MIPCOM. "The timing is too close to the L.A. Screenings, and that's where you're going to see new stuff. Here we're selling the old stuff, so there's really no need [to] send people here at great cost."
Many attendees point the finger at MIPTV organizers Reed Midem, who they claim has been slow to adapt to the recent seismic shifts in the TV business.
"The ecosystem is changing and just being a content market is very limiting," says Marcel Fenez, president of media consultancy Fenez Media Hong Kong. "They've tried to include new technology to an extent, but they need to be more inclusive about who they have ... The media companies (now) are Facebook and Twitter."
Fenez notes that MIP has also failed to attract attendees from the biggest emerging TV markets: China and India.
To its credit, Reed Midem is not standing still. The market has added sections for digital media and tried to attract more TV talent with events like its Drama Screenings, a mini-TV festival held on the weekend before MIPTV kicks off.
This year, MIPTV added a "pre-L.A. Screenings" event designed to give international buyers a sneak peek at the latest in U.S. series set to debut in May. But only two studios participated - Disney and Lionsgate - and neither had much to show, with only snippets of new series including Disney's Into the Deep, a "killer mermaids" series being made for Freeform in the U.S. - and Lionsgate's upcoming thriller 10 Days in the Valley starring Kyra Sedgwick. The bulk of the "screenings" were sales pitches accompanied only by still photos and making-of videos.
"Like watching Powerpoint presentations," snuffed one veteran European buyer.
Attendees were also skeptical of plans - announced this week - to run an international drama series festival alongside MIP-TV, starting next year. Cannes Mayor David Lisnard announced the event on Monday, promising an eight-day TV festival with a budget of more than $4 million and the support of French pay TV giant Canal Plus.
But the new Cannes Series festival faces a few challenges. The French government has thrown its support behind a different new TV festival, to be launched next April in Lille, in the north of the country. And then there's Series Mania, the increasingly prominent, Paris-based TV fest, which kicks off its eighth edition next week.
The fact that Cannes Series will be run independently of MIPTV could also lead to conflicts between the demands of the TV industry and the festival audience. Cannes Series is planned as a public festival, meaning hundreds of ordinary TV fans will crowd the streets of Cannes during MIP, not something most business execs would relish.
Though given the empty chairs and empty tables at bars and restaurants along the Croisette this week, one can understand the mayor's desire to shake things up.