MIAMI — Miami’s role as a creative capital is becoming ever more vital — with Latin American demand for U.S. fare a major factor behind the city’s showbiz clout.
That was the consensus here Tuesday at Variety’s first Miami Showbiz Summit, where several hundred industryites from the U.S. and Latin America gathered to discuss issues in pay TV, music, and film and TV production.
”It’s the tale of two continents — the bringing together of North and South America — and they’re coming together right here in Dade County,” USA Networks chairman Kay Koplovitz said in her morning keynote address.
”As the entertainment industry’s tent gets bigger and bigger, it needs new tentpoles to support it, and one of those poles is the city of Miami,” MTV Networks CEO Tom Freston echoed in his afternoon keynote address.
Freston said Miami had now achieved a ”creative critical mass” that made it a prime destination for talent, as well as a key point of departure for Latino-directed showbiz.
Referring to the confluence of cultures in Miami, Freston remarked that locally based MTV Latino boasts employees from 17 Spanish-speaking countries. He said this mix has served the cabler well in its efforts to cater to divergent tastes within Latin America.
The one-day conference focused chiefly on pay TV, and Koplovitz set an upbeat tone with a look at Latino growth potential, quoting new figures from Kagan World Media that predict the region’s subscribers will more than triple, to 37.3 million, by 2005.
But the exec qualified her optimism with a call for two major shifts: a freer regulatory environment — Koplovitz cited last year’s U.S.-Mexico deal on satellite-fed TV as a model for accords to come — and ”business normalization,” with accurate reporting of subscriber numbers and a standardized pan-regional ratings system.
A subsequent panel of eight programmers discussed how cable channels can gain a competitive edge in a market where more than 60 pan-regional nets now operate. Most agreed that while ”content is king,” a strong brand is ever more vital for ensuring the viability of a web.
Another recurrent theme during the day was the need to be sensitive and relevant to the Latino market. MTV Networks Latin America prexy Tom Hunter cited his company’s recent opening of Mexico City and Buenos Aires offices as an expensive but necessary way of keeping close contact.
”On a local level, there are a lot of programmers, and you have to know the market as well as they do,” Hunter added.
In a special presentation, Nely Galan, prexy of Galan Entertainment, identified seven elements, from graphics and music through tone and on-air talent, that go toward successful branding, using the much-lauded on-air look of Canal Fox as an example.
Stephen Chao, who is working with Venezuela’s Cisneros Group to develop a slew of Latino pay channels, then talked about how original programming can give cable networks ”a heartbeat” by differentiating them from other channels.
He identified women’s interest and music as examples of genres where there is still room for competition, thus identifying two areas in which Cisneros may well launch channels in the near future.
During an afternoon panel on music in the Americas, industryites discussed the opportunities and challenges facing Latino artists trying to cross over into the main U.S. market.
”Artists need to be exposed to mainstream markets through various shows and festivals, not just to Latin audiences,” said Jorge Pinos, VP of international music at William Morris, citing the difficulty Julio Iglesias experienced in getting on ”The Tonight Show.”
Angela Rodriguez, of concert promoters Water Brother, stressed that crossing over is still not easy: ”Analyze the record sales of artists who have crossed over successfully, and you can count them on one or two hands.”
”The traditional non-Hispanic music industry has suddenly discovered this huge (Latino) market, and want to partake in it,” said Ellen Moraskie, veep of Warner Chappell’s Latin Division. ”But they’re not willing to give an equal amount. There is still this attitude that Anglo is bigger and better.”
A final panel discussed the digital future of film, TV and commercial production. The main question: ”What drives technology for the entertainment business — creativity or the technology itself?”
”The bottom line is that it’s a partnership,” said Peter Owen, director of production house Quantel, which plans to open a Miami office this year.