Loyal U.S. Distribbers Counting On Monaco To Give Them The Business

Just 16 days after the NATPE hurly-burly in Las Vegas, a loyal clutch of U.S. TV distributors will repack their bags for a quieter, more genteel stop on the increasingly crowded market circuit.

These attendees at the Monte Carlo TV Market can be called loyalists, because a growing number of their Yank colleagues are doing more business with Euro and Asian clients during NATPE – or have decided to wait until the Mip TV market in Cannes in April to cross the Atlantic with new product.

Fortunately, this year’s edition of the 35-year-old event unspools as European economies begin to pick up steam and as more TV outlets click on.

The probability, therefore, that a fair amount of business will be written at Monte Carlo by Americans is good news, because bosses back home are increasingly trying to quantify – in dollar terms – the usefulness of sending a contingent to far-flung events around the world.

Numbers down

“The bottom line is there’s not a need for two markets in a 30-day period,” says Saban Intl. president Stan Golden, summing up a frequently heard gripe among U.S. suppliers.

Overall attendance five years ago at the Monte Carlo event was 5,000, but has now dwindled to around 2,000. A number of middle-sized and smaller players can simply not afford to attend more than three or four international trade events a year.

Says NBC Intl.’s senior VP of sales Matthew Ody: “There isn’t a value in going to all of them. We’re reevaluating how we spend our money, and we’ve found that we’re spending too much time just preparing for markets.” Ody confirmed that NBC Intl. would not be attending either Monte Carlo or next December’s Mip Asia in Hong Kong.

However, all the Hollywood majors – except Disney – are skedded to take a suite at the Loew’s Hotel convention site. A respectable contingent of key indies – Worldvision, World International Network, Saban, Hearst and Alliance – will also be on hand. Playboy, a former regular, is not attending.

Of the 120 exhibiting companies that will gather at the Loew’s, 45 are U.S.-based. By comparison, Mip, the TV trade show in Cannes, attracted last April some 400 exhibiting companies, of which 94 were American. Its sister trade show, Mipcom in Cannes, attracted 413 exhibiting companies last October, of which 115 were American.

But most prospective participants from the U.S. say the Riviera rendezvous still pays off.

“It’s still very vital,” says Bert Cohen, senior VP for Worldvision Enterprises, which sells “Beverly Hills 90201” and “Melrose Place” in foreign.

Cohen, like others of his counterparts, says he particularly relishes the “quiet time” with clients which the leisurely pace of Monte Carlo affords. He sets up most of his NATPE appointments with the Latin American contingent and keeps his Monte Carlo schedule open for Euros.

“Those who stay away are making a mistake,” adds indie producer and distribber Michael J. Solomon. “There are plenty of people I need to see who show up there.”

Similarly, Gershman considers Monte Carlo the most “workmanlike” of conventions – “You screen, you sell, you eat and you leave” – while the cost for a non-major company at Mip and at NATPE is horrendous.

Because of a series of major changes to network schedules domestically, U.S. suppliers will have a sizable number of mid-season replacements – shows like “Cybill,” “Women of the House,” “Double Rush” and “The Marshal” – to unveil on the Riviera.

MCA TV Intl. president Colin Davis, for example, says he’ll be concentrating on three new hours set to premiere on the various U.S. nets in the next few weeks: “Sliders” for Fox, “The Wright Verdict” for CBS and “Extreme” for ABC. While Davis points out that available timeslots on Euro broadcasters are becoming ever scarcer, hours are still the favorite acquisition of foreign buyers.

TV movies – especially male-oriented contempo themes – also continue to play well in Europe, says World International Network president Larry Gershman. His company licenses foreign rights to some 20 U.S. telepix a year.

Columbia Pictures TV Intl. VP Michael Grindon adds that foreign buyers are getting more hip to the possibilities for their skeds of first-run syndicated product from the U.S.

Target auds

“They’ve found that dramatic hours made for syndication – things like ‘Baywatch’ and ‘Forever Knight’ – work well, and now they’re realizing that U.S. talk shows – ‘Oprah’ and ‘Donahue’ having blazed the trail – can target the kinds of audience, especially the younger female viewers, they want to go after.” Grindon’s company will be working to close more deals on its hit first-run talker, “Ricki Lake,” at both NATPE and Monte Carlo.

In the minds of many market-goers, Monte Carlo is also the preferred venue for talking about co-productions.

Alliance TV Intl. president Rola Zayed, who is based in Paris, says her company finds the market conducive to spending quality time with Euro clients. “It gives us a chance,” she says, “to focus on what kind of programming we should develop that has European content and appeal.”

As for trouble spots on the European horizon, most suppliers point to Italy as being the most intractable. “The whole market is falling behind in terms of new technology and new outlets,” says Saban’s Golden. “That, more than anything else, has stifled imports.”

Gershman adds that Japan is still a tough sell, with broadcasters buying less than 5% of shows from overseas suppliers. Moreover, he explains, Japanese stations are programming older imported product and have eliminated a couple of key primetime movie slots.

Bright spots in suppliers’ minds include France, where cable is finally catching on; the U.K., where new satcasters are coming on stream; and Belgium and Scandinavia, where new commercial players will soon be launched.

The market also unfolds as the French make one last push to tighten the screws on the controversial Television without Frontiers directive. That touchy reg limits non-EC programming to not more than 50% of airtime on Euro small screens.

While most U.S. suppliers are not overly anxious about the quota restrictions as they stand, few would be silent if the restrictions on imports were more severe.

Says New World Entertainment president Jim McNamara: “It could be a problem for ‘B’ product if more restrictive regs are put into place in Europe.”