Greg Dyke On Broadcasting

Forget Cannes. Any takers for a wet weekend in Manchester?
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Twice a year the international television industry gathers in Cannes in the South of France for two conventions called MIP and MIPCOM. The idea is that people fly in from all over the world to buy and sell television programmes in a market which must have trebled in size since I first went, more than twenty years ago.

I've always had my doubts about the value of these sorts of markets - it always seems to me that while literally hundreds of new projects are always announced at Cannes, very few of these ever seem to get into production. And while a lot of deals to buy and sell programmes are completed in Cannes most are set up in advance and only "signed" during the markets.

In the process, an awful lot of eating and drinking goes on and a lot of people seem to have a good time on the French Riviera, a few brave people even swim in the sea. In other words, Cannes has always been a good "jolly," particularly for senior television executives, most of whom have never sold a programme in their lives but feel it's important to be seen to be there.

I always had a theory that we could discover the true value of these markets if they were moved from the South of France to Manchester, and held it in November and February. That way, by a system of self selection, we could find out who actually needed to be there.

Of course every head of international sales I've ever met has told me that I'm wrong and that these two Cannes-based markets are enormously valuable (there is a third similar market held in, surprise surprise, Monte Carlo), but then they would say that, wouldn't they.

Mind you, as a chief executive of a range of companies over the years I've never had the nerve to tell them to pull out of the markets in Cannes.

Cannes is not a cheap place at the best of times, but during MIP or MIPCOM you do get the feeling that prices are exorbitant. The demand for hotel rooms is such that you feel very grateful when you arrive to find your room hasn't been given to a higher bidder, normally a latecomer from the United States. I've been bounced on more than one occasion in the past.

A decade ago when I was building Pearson Television, an international television production business which is now called FremantleMedia, we bought a large Australian production company called Grundy (the people who made Neighbours amongst other things). We completed the deal and the following week I flew down to MIP with Reg Grundy to meet the team we had acquired. I discovered that the senior executives at Grundy had some of the best hotel rooms in Cannes and I naively asked how they had managed to acquire them given the demand. Silly question.

The answer, of course, was money. A very large bung was being paid on top of the cost of the rooms to someone on the hotel staff.

The following year when I was in charge I decided this had to stop, it was costing too much, so I sent someone to talk to the hotel negotiator to tell him that we weren't going to pay the bung in future. He said that he fully understood our problem and that he would try to help us. He explained that while the bung was non-negotiable he would reduce the amount we paid the hotel.

Until last week I hadn't been to either MIP or MIPCOM for at least six years but this year I was invited, expenses paid, to sit on a panel to talk about the future of television in the digital era, a subject which must have been discussed at every television conference anywhere in the world for at least a decade.

I discovered that some things had changed since my last trip to MIP. The enormous boats parked in the marina and used by production companies and distributors as the base for their operations for the week had got even bigger, there were more people eating and drinking in the restaurants and bars than ever, but the biggest change was the number of people in Cannes from what I call the ancillary television industry. The banks were there, the head hunters were there, the accounting firms were there en masse and so were the inevitable consultants, all of which must tell you something about what has happened to the television industry in recent years. Oh, and there were a few producers around as well.

How ITV's birthday bash ignored its Jewish roots

The biggest and, surely, the final event to celebrate ITV's 50th birthday was held at the Guildhall recently. It was a very glamorous affair with the Queen and Prince Phillip present for an hour or so (before they departed to spend the rest of the evening at Mrs Thatcher's 80th birthday party) and everyone who was anyone in the history of British television turned up - well nearly everyone.

One notable absentee was BBC chairman Michael Grade, a former ITV man himself, whose uncle, the legendry Lew Grade, was one of the founders of ITV. He was one of several leading members of the Jewish television community who weren't at the event. So where were they on such an auspicious night?

The answer is that when the people in ITV set the date for the event, they can't have realised that Thursday 13 October was the Day of Atonement, when Jews are required to fast. This meant some prominent practicing Jews in the television industry would be unable to attend. Given the enormous role the Grade family had played in the history of ITV, Michael was, understandably, a bit put out. Fifty years ago ITV was set up largely by a very successful group of Jewish entrepreneurs from the entertainment business who certainly wouldn't have been welcome in the BBC at the time. It seems this was forgotten.