January 2012
Volume 32 No. 1

January 2013
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MIP-TV at 50: Remembering The Good Ole Days

To celebrate MIP-TV’s 50th anniversary, VideoAge (present at the market since 1982) called on a few former — and some current — TV executives who led the industry during its “golden era.” Distributors and buyers alike recall what MIP-TV was like in those early years.

The unpronounceable “Marché International des Programmes de Television,” mercifully abbreviated to MIP-TV, was started in Lyon, France in 1963 by Bernard Chevry — then a charismatic 40-year-old publisher — three years after MIFED, the world’s first audiovisual market, was started in Milan, Italy. The first MIP-TV was attended by 119 companies from 19 countries.

Chevry was originally involved in the publishing business and was best known for establishing the first book clubs in France. In 1950, he became editor-in-chief of Official Toy magazine in Paris, and was responsible for the creation of the International Toy and Game trade show. Chevry entered the television field in 1957, when he co-produced a children’s show, followed by five films on classical music, including one documentary about Isaac Stern and one about Arthur Rubinstein, for which he won an award.

Subsequently, in 1965, after a one-year hiatus, MIP-TV moved to Cannes, utilizing the town’s “old” Palais for the exhibition floors. In 1982 the much larger and successful market moved to the new Palais, while the old one became a hotel.

A lifelong bachelor (“If I were married, I could never have done this,” Chevry told VideoAge in 1982), he cultivated the image of a mysterious and enigmatic figure who lived with his mother. Undocumented stories of his early life and anecdotes abounded, for Chevry was MIP-TV participants’ favorite topic of conversation after program sales. Getting old and without heirs (outside of his nephew), in 1987 he sold his markets organizing company, MIDEM, to the U.K.’s Television South (TVS) for £5 million. Two years later, TVS sold MIDEM to Reed Exhibitions (for a reported $20 million), which renamed it Reed MIDEM. According to some accounts, the high resale value of MIDEM left Chevry upset. He returned to the publishing business with a free, airport-distributed magazine.

Curiously, up until 1978, MIP-TV did not have a large American presence and, 35 years later, even though American companies make up the bulk of the key exhibitors, some studios have left the market floor to concentrate on the L.A. Screenings, which starts in May, just a few weeks after MIP-TV.

Anita Erken attended her first MIP-TV in 1965 as sales director for Germany’s Betafilm and her last one in 2003. What she remembered most is that “16 mm filmprints were used for screenings in rooms that had to be reserved in advance. There were no badges. The names and photos of participants were posted on a big billboard. A red light next to the photo signaled that there was a message to be retrieved at a kiosk. Each stand was equipped with one telephone with the line always busy.”

Erken was scheduled to participate in MIP-TV’s 50th anniversary, but it had to be canceled due to a “minor operation” that will prevent her from traveling.

Irv Holender attended his first MIP-TV in 1967, representing Desilu Studios, as an invited guest of then-MIP-TV organizer, Bernard Chevry: “The event was in the building which later became the Noga Hotel. The prices were very attractive. The hotels were very reasonable. At the restaurants, an average meal cost U.S.$10. The environment felt like you were at a family affair with the courtesy and friendliness of the organization and staff. You were treated as a professional with respect. The dress code was suits and ties: very formal.

“The event lasted six days and gave all attendees the time to cover the four-story building, and offered more quality time than today, running between the various floors and buildings.
“Most of the television networks were government-controlled and many broadcasting only a few hours a day. As an American company, we began licensing films and series in very small quantities.”

Bill Gilbert attended his first MIP-TV in 1967. He had just left BBC where he was both a buyer and a seller and joined Rank Overseas Film. “We did not have a stand and the most memorable part of the day was meeting after dinner at the small bar at the Martinez Hotel.”

Herb Lazarus attended his first MIP-TV in 1968 for 20th Century Fox: “In Lyon [in 1963], I can be certain that no American studios were there. I do remember an MPAA export committee meeting, where we were told that ‘a market’ had started in Lyon and was moving to Cannes, and would we attend? All the companies sitting around the table said no until it came to Fox, which said yes, they would attend, and that’s when the other guys said ‘if Fox goes we will have to go as well.’

“The year was 1969 in Cannes for MIP. At 20th Century Fox, Alan Silverbach was the head of all TV Distribution, I was heading up International Distribution and Bill Saunders was our European manager. We decided to have a dinner for 40 of our clients at a restaurant in Antibes called Felix Au Port. Bill was the host. We got a bus to pick up our clients at the various hotels and gave them champagne and tidbits on the ride to Antibes. Fabulous dinner, the clients were happy. When it came time to go back to Cannes and Alan and I were getting the people back on the bus, two things happened. First, one of the guests told us that, while he had a great evening, he wasn’t one of our clients and he was supposed to be at a FIFA dinner instead, but had gotten on the wrong bus. Second, Bill was in the kitchen of the restaurant settling the bill when he got Alan and my attention and asked us to come to the kitchen. The bill for the dinner was 40,000 francs and Bill said he didn’t have enough money with him and Felix did not take credit cards or a check, so could we chip in? I asked Bill how much he had and he said 1,500 francs. After screaming with laughter and asking Bill how he could invite 40 people for dinner without having enough money, he said he thought a credit card would be acceptable. Fortunately, Alan and I were carrying enough francs to help Bill out.”

Pedro Leda’s first MIP-TV was in 1969. At that time he was a movies and TV series Latin American distributor for a company he had formed in Argentina with partner Leon Darcyl. He first heard of MIP through his partner, who traveled to Europe often and even attended the first MIP in Lyon in 1963. “All activities were held in the old Palais, mainly on the terrace overlooking the sea. I remember that there were not too many exhibitors and buyers. Negotiations were very relaxed. Everybody had all the time in the world! I also remember meeting the nephew of the then French President Charles de Gaulle, who attended MIP perhaps on behalf of a French ministry or state television. He certainly was very tall and looked a lot like his uncle.”

Norman Horowitz: “It was probably in 1971 that I attended my first MIP-TV while at Screen Gems (Columbia Pictures) with my two associates, Herb Lazarus (we worked together in New York City) and Kenneth John Page, who was based in London.

“To call the exhibition space at ‘The old Palais’ inadequate would be an understatement. To compensate for that we rented a salon at our hotel (The Carlton) and imported a Sony player and cassettes of all of our pilots for all of our ‘important screenings.’

“All was well until we were asked to see the market director general Bernard Chevry. He said that he was happy that we rented space at the Palais but that many were complaining that we were taking people away from the market to the hotel.

“As I recall, MCA was also screening in the hotel and did not rent space in the market.

“We complained that the screening space at the Palais was horrid and he offered us his space for the next market. We happily accepted and there was the proverbial ‘dancing in the streets.’

“Everything was fine until Bernard, wishing to have the last word, told us as we were leaving something like: ‘And just in case you change your mind about what we had agreed, I’ll have you banned from the city and make it impossible to obtain hotel rooms.’

“We all had a history of being threatened by our clients, but none of us had ever been threatened by a supplier.

“We did not return to MIP-TV. We stayed out of the market until, as I recall, 1979. While it was lovely coming to Cannes, Bernard was not going to mess with us.

“At the same time, I’m ashamed to call what we did in Cannes ‘work.’ How bad could it be having a buffet lunch at the Carlton Beach Restaurant, eating the best food in the world and pretending that you weren’t looking at the topless women?”

Giuseppe Proietti’s first MIP-TV was in 1974 as a junior sales person for Italy’s SACIS, the distribution division of Italy’s RAI. “Most of all, I was overwhelmed by my accommodations at the Carlton, a hotel also famous as the site of the first meeting of the League of Nations in 1922, which is commemorated by a plaque. At that time SACIS did not have a stand, and we paid just for the badges, which were collected at the Malmaison, the building adjacent to the old Palais.

In order to find buyers, I first studied their photos in the guide and, later, I tried matching the photo on their badges, by going up and down the stairs of the old Palais, carrying a stack of brochures. When a buyer was a top programmer, the brochure was the only thing needed to make the sale; junior executives, on the other hand, needed screening material, in the form of videotape reels that I would subsequently send to them. At times it was more economical to invite buyers to Rome for the screenings than to ship material. All the buyers were from state-owned organizations and most TV networks were in black and white.”

Larry Gershman: “In the mid-’70s I was hired by Viacom as VP of International Sales three weeks before MIP-TV. I was fortunate in that I had inherited the number one or number two managing directors in just about every major territory around the world: Howard Karshan (Europe); Jiro Sugiyama (Japan); Benigno Nosti (Latin America) and Bill Wells (Australia).

“They could not have been more welcoming to me. This was a new world for me — pun intended. MIP-TV took place in the old crowded Palais and the activity was frenetic. I went for a run on the Croisette very early in the mornings before at least one breakfast meeting, then onto our stand meeting all new faces, followed by a business lunch and then back to the stand.

At least one meeting over drinks at the Majestic or Carlton, dinner (and every restaurant was a new great experience), back for drinks at the Majestic until 2 a.m., only to start all over again a few hours later.

“I loved it! This was an introduction by fire, but an introduction to what has been my life for all these years since. I cannot think of a better way to be introduced to the world of television and the wonderful people who occupy it.”

Vladimir Frantar was a buyer of drama first for JRT (Yugoslav Radio and Television) and later for TV Slovenija: “My first MIP-TV was in 1975. I remember that in 1977 there was MIP-TV in April and, in the fall, Canada’s CBC organized their Screening in Toronto in association with the British Global TV, where many European buyers were invited expense-paid. I was among them.

“At MIP-TV in the old Palais there were about four floors with small booths for meetings. At that time I dealt mostly with European companies, like BBC, Thames TV, Granada TV, ZDF, Telepool, TF 1, Antenne 2, France 3, RAI, Beta Film, etc. and some Eastern European companies (like Czech, Polish and East German TV), but we also started with American companies, like Fox, WB, Paramount and Worldvision. We had meetings and screenings in the special screening rooms (by different types of programs), as there were no cassettes. It was much better when those big U-Matic cassettes appeared.

“I attended MIP only a few times in the old Palais, and then the new one was built. Overall, I went to MIP-TV and MIPCOM more than 50 times.

“Today, the MIDEM organization has completely forgotten me but I’m happy that the TV Festival in Monte Carlo didn’t forget me. Last year I was invited to be a member of the International Pre-selection Committee for drama and I am invited again this year.

“I used to be quite popular among the sellers. I remember that one BBC sales executive used to call me ‘Mr. P,’ which was, by her opinion, ‘Mister Popular.’ I was always on time to the meetings and was never promising something I couldn’t do. I liked my work. It was my job and my hobby. [The TV station] is still sending me VideoAge, which I read with big interest, while I’m thinking of the ‘good old times.’”

Charles Falzon’s first MIP-TV was in 1978 as a seller for Canada’s CBC covering the Caribbean, Latin America and South East Asia. “We were the new young people in town and facing the ‘old-boy network’ was really tough. I remember when a few buyers from South Africa’s SABC came to our stand and, a few minutes into the screening, while I was happily waiting outside the room, they all walked out rather annoyed. Without realizing it, I had them screen an anti-apartheid music concert.

But the most memorable moment for me was in 1987 with my own company, Producers Group. While pitching a buyer, his chair was slowly sinking. In order not to fall, he held onto the wall, which collapsed. While this was going on, I kept on pitching.”

Armando Nuñez Sr.: “My first MIP was in 1979. At that time I was at ITC in charge of sales for the Far East, Latin America, Canada and Israel. If I’m not mistaken, our small booth was on the second floor of the Malmaison, next to the old Palais. I remember my British colleagues warning me that the building had no air conditioning, but they said, ‘our booth is next to two big windows,’ which was nice early in the morning. At that time people were allowed to smoke everywhere, and they did, so the windows had to be kept open all the time.”

Bernard Majani’s first MIP-TV was in 1979. Today he’s M6 TV’s director of acquisition in Paris, but then he was in sales at Plateforme 2000: “It was the year we launched the French cartoon Wattoo Wattoo. We drove MIP-TV organizers crazy because we were putting stickers of the cartoon right on the photographs on the badges, rendering impossible the identity of the participants. The organizers made us stop, but at the end of the first day everyone knew Wattoo Wattoo!”

Michael J. Solomon: “My first MIP-TV at Telepictures was in 1979. Our stand was in the third basement of the old Palais. I remember nailing the Telepictures sign myself over a desk in a tiny space that had no room for chairs. The most decent product we had was The American Film Theatre, which was 14 features of plays which I thought I would never sell. Lo and behold, the head of film programming for the BBC came looking for us to license these 14 films, which I did and I thought I died and went to heaven. That sale literally started our journey to become a very major player in the world of international distribution.”

Dom Serafini attended his first MIP-TV in 1979 as International Editor of Television/RadioAge. “My boss, Sol Paul, sent me to MIP with two specific orders: do not upset Sandy Frank, who ran his own company, and Telepictures’ Michael Solomon. Frank bussed half of MIP to an out-of-town orphanage where he ceremoniously donated a large check. Solomon organized a press luncheon during MIP’s busiest period and monitored who attended. Since they both were very large advertisers, no one could afford to miss them.

“When VideoAge Daily at NATPE ran an ad for the Monte Carlo TV Market in 1983, Bernard Chevry was so upset that he tried to ban me from MIP. What I used to dread the most, however, was meeting MCA’s Colin Davis in the mornings. Inevitably, he carried a copy of VideoAge Daily at MIP streaked with a yellow marker. Puffing cigarette smoke into my face, he would proceed to analyze line-by-line every single article! ‘Don’t try to be The New York Times,’ he used to say. Exasperated, I finally told him to just look at the pictures! To save money on ad production, in 1987 Davis sent a magenta color proof for a metallic silver ad. The printer matched the color and the ad came out reddish.

In 1989, Warner Bros. paid the expenses of having parts of VideoAge’s MIP Issue reprinted overnight because the ears of Buster Bunny in the ad weren’t spaced properly.”

Dick Lippin of The Lippin Group: “For a guy who was born in Brooklyn and only dreamed about going to the South of France, setting foot in Cannes for the first time in 1983 was magical. I have been to MIP countless times, but every time I go it is like I have never been there before. 
“In one very memorable moment at MIP 1993 I was with Cindy Crawford, and we were about to hold a news conference in the lobby of the Carlton Hotel to launch her new program. Boy, did we underestimate her popularity! The press conference was postponed because the crush of photographers and reporters was so great. We wound up being ushered into what was an oversized closet until it was safe to come out again.”