By Dom Serafini

Undoubtedly, the previous international television industry leadership was an excellent one: It created the International Council (now International Academy). It made markets such as MIP-TV and MIPCOM into premier global gatherings. It helped create a prosperous commercial television sector first in Europe and later in the rest of the world. And it set the pace and laid the foundations for today’s digital TV world.

I see such leadership in today’s Latin American television industry — an industry that is fast becoming the second largest after the U.S., not in terms of revenues, but certainly in terms of program hours sold internationally.

However, one grudge that I tend to hold against the elder industry’s leadership is the fact that, collectively, it never gave me or anyone else for that matter, any good advice about investing in real estate in Cannes.

The place had always been a tourist town but it also became a business town with the advent of the Cannes Film Festival, which was originally created with the hope of burying the pre-WWII Fascist-sponsored Venice Film Festival. It never actually managed to put the Venetian event to rest, but subsequently, with MIP-TV and MIPCOM, Cannes succeeded in burying another entertainment-related Italian event: Milan-based MIFED, the world first audiovisual market.

In my earlier years, when I was at Television/Radio Age, going to a Cannes TV event required three months of planning — as it still does today, at least for us at VideoAge. Then, we started getting ready in January for MIP-TV. Technology didn’t help much. There were no direct flights, but there was plenty of luggage with bulky communications tools and no ATMs (cash machines). We used to carry wads of American Express traveler’s checks and spent hours trying to convert them into French francs.

Then, once finally in Cannes, there was a race for who could depart first! As soon as the market started, the common greeting was: “Where’re you staying?” followed by: “When are you leaving?”

Most of the TV execs couldn’t wait for the closing bell. Indeed, some of them didn’t even bother waiting for the bell. They simply took off at the first opportunity, leaving me dumbfounded. They would talk so fondly of the place, before and after, but not during!

I could never figure out why. Perhaps the long preparations took the sap out of them once they were there. The fact, however, remains that, like all the others, I too got influenced by this attitude and, before I could learn to properly pronounce a coupe de champagne s’il vous plait, I became as frantic as everyone else to run for the exit: by car, by plane, by train or even by boat.

At that point the routine became: Nice airport, hotel, Palais, Nice airport. At times we indulged in excursions to Le Moulin de Mougins restaurant, or to the Villa Domergue in the hills behind Cannes for some fancy events. The parties that Cathy Malatesta, then with Westinghouse, used to throw in Mougins were legendary.

In any case, we were oblivious if not to the beauty of the place, certainly to the opportunities it offered, especially where real estate was concerned. We viewed Cannes strictly as a place of business and, as such, on par with Las Vegas.

Can you imagine? In 1978, when I first started going to MIP-TV, the U.S. dollar was worth four francs, reaching as high as 10 Francs in 1985. At that time a one-bedroom 500 sq. ft. apartment with a small terrace near the Martinez hotel (not facing the sea), would have cost the equivalent of $15,000. The same apartment today goes for 360,000 euro or more than half a million dollars, and is thus out of financial reach for many of us. In addition to the great equity gain, today, such an apartment can generate at least $20,000 per year in various rentals and $3,000 in savings per TV market.

Why didn’t the elders give us “new kids on the block” some proper financial advice for the future? They surely weren’t shy or low-key buttoned-up people!

Perhaps they didn’t think Cannes represented a worthwhile investment. Indeed, they did not invest either. Surely, they did not see the TV trade shows held there as temporary events, since they invested heavily in the markets’ success. It is possible that those TV execs, who were well compensated financially, assumed, correctly, that most of us were penniless and thus afraid that, having made investment suggestions, we’d ask them for loans.

The fact that my generation did not have money to invest shouldn’t have been a deterrent because even then there were ways to be “creative” with bank loans, mortgages, and monthly payments, considering that an apartment there could be rented for good money both during the Cannes Film Festival and for the summer. But this epiphany comes only with the savviness of today. Then, we needed their savvy!

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