Organizers tap into Hollywood connection

Don’t let the wandering elk moseying past fool you. Banff may be a world-class backwoods resort town most of the year, but it’s all business when June rolls around.

“We do have elk, and one year a cable channel executive almost walked right into a bear,” says Ferne Cohen, exec director of the festival. “The setting is a draw for us, but it isn’t the only thing that makes our festival so unique.”

This year, the Banff TV Festival is sporting a new title — the Banff World Media Festival — and a fresh perspective. Although the festival has dabbled in digital technology in the past, this June marks the pairing of the festival with NextMedia conference.

“We are staying in step with the evolving industry. We provide one seamless merge between the TV festival and how new technology is being created and consumed,” Cohen says. “Even more than before, we give access to the decisionmakers who are dealing at the development level.”

Deals are made and formats bought at Banff, while ongoing panels allow participants to educate themselves about everything from the changing landscape of new media to developing, launching and managing a hit series in today’s television marketplace. The mission of the festival is to bring broadcasters, producers, writers, directors, distributors and industry execs in television and digital media into the world’s largest international development and production marketplace.

While still keeping an international flavor, the fest has built a strong bond with Hollywood. This year 20th Century Fox Television chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman are joint keynote presenters. Margaret Loesch, CEO of kids net the Hub, keynotes for children’s programming, and Magical Elves toppers Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz — exec producers of “Top Chef” — for non-fiction.

Ed Asner nabbed a Lifetime Achievement Award and director James Burrows was tabbed as recipient of the Peter Ustinov Comedy Award. Both will be featured in separate special master class programs.

The Banff Showrunner Series features some of Hollywood’s hottest writers, producers and directors. This year’s participants include Greg Daniels (“Parks and Recreation”), Veena Sud (“The Killing”), Arnold Shapiro (“Big Brother”) and Burrows.

“It’s very telling that our three major keynotes are high profile and L.A. based,” Cohen says. “We’ve become increasingly well-known in Hollywood and big-name showrunners this year are participating.”

Under the new umbrella brand of media conference, Banff offers a more in-depth look at digital media’s impact on the television industry.

“Banff was one of the first festivals to get into digital,” says Andrew Ryan, Toronto Globe & Mail TV critic. “NATPE is still a clearing house, but Banff is actually a festival bringing together talent, producers and broadcasters. If you want to be a player, you need to be at Banff.”

Ryan says one of the great values of Banff is the ability to put TV shows on an international stage. He points to “Breaking Bad” producer Vince Gilligan, who attended the fest, which became a springboard for gathering global attention to his AMC series.

“He got a ton of international press at a time when ‘Breaking Bad’ had not played in a lot of countries outside North America,” Ryan says. “This provided an introduction to different countries that proved successful.”

Banff had a 30% attendance spike last year, and indications are strong that this edition will show even more growth. More than 150 development executives are slated to attend, according to Cohen.

Says Ryan: “It’s a must-attend event, and if you want proof, just try to get a hotel room that weekend.”

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