MIP-COM organisers are putting a brave face on a television programmes market that is competing against the scariest and most compelling kind of reality TV - war.

The main market had not officially opened by the time that US and British missiles had started raining down on Afghanistan on Sunday night. The opening set-piece and the medal ceremony for Reed-Midem veteran Xavier Roy yesterday (8 Oct) were sombre affairs with little flair or flamboyance and were conducted with the anticipation of possible interruptions like the one that disrupted Sunday night's Emmy ceremony.

Reed Midem reported that 389 companies from 53 countries took part in this weekend's record-breaking MIPCOM Junior, the children's TV market that precedes the main event (8-12 Oct). That compares with 386 from 51 countries in 2000. But companies sent fewer delegates - 674 compared with 760 last time around. And it certainly feels that the main show is depleted.

After the ubiquitous, but scarily inefficient, bag-checks which caused queues of executives to back up some 200m, the interior of the Palais des Festivals was reasonably well populated. Traffic at stands was fluid rather than crowded, making a fairly pleasant working atmosphere. Given that the tented village has been abandoned and stands have been re-incorporated within the Palais, the Riviera and a single overflow pavilion, that must imply a reduction of perhaps 20% in the number of stands and 20%-30% in executives.

The bombing campaign was the first topic of conversation for all. And all around the market any spare TV screens not actually promoting a particular product had been re-tuned to CNN. Kirch/Beta cancelled a dinner planned for Tuesday 9 Oct, arguing that its subject: the Crusades, would make great TV, but that it would be insensitive to celebrate that while the West is bombing a Muslim state.

But it was not all gloom. Stars in attendance on the first day included Roger Moore and Rowan Atkinson. And Nigel Walmsley, deputy chief executive at the UK's Carlton said: "it is not as bad we had been led to believe."

Susan Wendt, sales executive at Danish film and TV group, Nordisk Film said: "It is definitely down on the last MIP-TV and last year's MIP-COM. We've had a lot of cancellations from Australia, Canada and the US - anyone who is afraid of getting stuck on the wrong continent. But there are still plenty of people around and I've got meetings every half hour for the rest of the week." Another seller remarked: "we seem to be a continent short this week."

Prospects for MIFED and London's pre-MIFED film market hang in the balance. While MIFED spokesman Paolo di Maira said that the number of planned screenings and the volume of market premieres are on course to be greater than last year, sellers agreed that there is no certainty about how active buyers will be. (see separate story)

London in particular looks shaky. Many companies present at MIP-COM are planning to return to Europe in three weeks, but many feel that they can do without going to a city high on the list for possible bin Laden reprisals. Many suddenly used the justifications for not going that they had conveniently ignored for the last couple of years. "Small companies are better suited to MIFED than London," said one buyer. "We have no English-language product so will give London a miss as sellers. One of our acquisitions team is going," said another.