MIP-TV, the television programmes market, celebrated its 40th anniversary yesterday with Champagne and a towering cake in front of the Palais des Festivals in Cannes. But inside the Palais and the new Riviera complex the market was wearing a very gap-toothed smile. Corridor traffic was down on previous events and many stands remained empty.

Pre-market rumours had suggested that the US studios would avoid MIP-TV, just as some had avoided sister event MIP-COM when the bombing began in Afghanistan in October 2001. But American companies were not the noticeable absentees. That dubious honour was left to the Japanese.

Nippon TV and TV Asahi were present and were rewarded with busy, bustling stands. But companies that simply did not turn up included KSS, Fuji TV and Tohokushinsha.

State broadcaster NHK sent a skeleton staff. A mournful notice pasted on the stand of TV Tokyo simply read "Due to the present conditions TV Tokyo have decided not to attend the market. We apologise if this causes you any inconvenience."

Takashi Suehiro, sales and production executive with Nippon Animation said: "The war is in Iraq, not in Japan or France. For us it is business as usual." But he said that he understood the position of other Japanese firms. "Insurance could be one of the factors."

National Geographic and Discovery were the biggest American cancellations. Hallmark Entertainment called off its big promotional bash scheduled for tonight after company president Robert Halmi Jr decided not to travel. But most of the rest of the company's staff was in Cannes and doing business.

Market veteran, Josh Berner, denied that Warner Bros. International Television had ducked out. "[Company president] Jeffrey Schlesinger was here," he said. "But you can see that it is not exactly busy here," he added, pointing to the huge stand WBIT shares with HBO and Turner.

There were other gaps too. A number of spaces in the "bunker" and some in the above-ground floors of the Palais appeared simply not to have been sold to exhibitors. Many sported discrete flower arrangements. And apart from the press tent there was no national or overspill pavilion either.

Many pointed to tough economic conditions and consolidation in the TV industry after a period of over-heated expansion as more fundamental reasons for the apparent drop in delegate numbers.

During the afternoon press conference Gilles Fontaine, head of media market research group IDATE, forecast a tough 2003 with "consolidation and concentration the ongoing themes."

While market chief Rene Peres, was predicting a "good market," many predicted a long-term decline for MIP-TV, pointing to the spring as a difficult position in the TV production calendar, which is too early for the US producers to deliver their pilots and too late for their series to be sold.

The spring has already seen the disappearance of Monte Carlo as a general TV programmes market and this year's NAPTE was by many accounts a washout.