The heat is on. Faced with an increasingly international NATPE and a growing number of TV bean-counters anxious to reduce company travel costs, Monte Carlo market organizers have tweaked and trimmed Europe’s first major TV market of the year.

One day shorter than last year (Feb. 13-16), one week later (to provide a breathing space after NATPE), and with reduced hotel prices, Monte Carlo’s honchos are doing their best to keep the event in the first division of TV marts.

Buying time

The biggest problem, according to market topper Andre Asseo, is the short gap between NATPE and Monte Carlo. “We’ve moved our opening from Feb. 7 to Feb. 13 to give the television executives a little time between the two,” says Asseo.

In addition, the expansion of NATPE from a fundamentally syndication-oriented event to a genuinely international gathering has left some companies – both buyers and sellers – wondering whether they need to make the trip to Monte Carlo.

“We certainly looked long and hard about participating (at Monte Carlo). We decided it is still worth it, but we will be taking fewer people this year,” notes Florent Gaignault of Col/TriStar Intl. TV. “For big companies like ourselves, with offices in most major capitals, we see most of our clients on a week-to-week basis, without having to see them again at a market. There’s also increasing pressure to trim travel budgets.”

“Globally, there’s been no change in the number of stands (150) this year,” notes Asseo. “The American majors, who have always backed Monte Carlo, are here again.”

The challenge facing Monte Carlo is to maintain that core of U.S. support. Stateside sales execs insist it’s their job to be out on the road but, as one Yank salesman admits, “The financial guys are beginning to ask whether we can afford the luxury of a stand, hotel and airfare for markets where we talk a lot, but sign relatively few deals.”

Everybody, as usual, moans that there are simply too many markets. “Two big get-togethers would be enough each year,” says Jan Koerbelin, program head at German commercial web Pro-7. “We’ve got NATPE, Mip, Mipcom, the L.A. Screenings and Monte Carlo. At some point, the question presents itself about whether we couldn’t work things in a more concentrated way.”

Asseo acknowledges there are too many markets, but hopes NATPE’s growth will keep Monte Carlo on the map. “Predictions were that there’d be 15,000 people in Las Vegas. That’s going to make it very difficult to get quality time to talk. We can offer that in Monte Carlo.”

Veteran participants agree.

The relatively compact market venue in the Hotel Loews, the central bar which serves as a schmoozing and snoozing location, and the laid-back atmosphere, are cited by many as a welcome relief from the more frantic TV markets.

“If Monte Carlo went under, the business would go on without it,” says Ian Howden, BBC-TV’s head of acquisitions. “But it has established its own niche. It’s not dominated by the U.S. majors and has less of the hurly-burly of the big markets.”

Important indies

Adds Howden, “It’s an opportunity to spend more time with the important independent suppliers. For us, it’s more of a BBC2 (the Beeb’s minority channel) market than a BBC1.”

Nicky Wood, film buyer at minority commercial web Channel 4, notes Monte Carlo is especially useful for Euros. “A lot of Americans feel Monte Carlo is one market too many, but it’s invaluable for European distributors. We get to see those we haven’t seen since Mipcom. Monte Carlo also gives us the chance to see the midseason American shows.”

On the downside, this year’s market has a number of defections from 1994. Germany’s Atlas Intl. Film will be a no-show, as will French film distributor Mercure, Polish TV, Scottish TV, and ERT from Greece.

Says Scottish TV program sales chief Anita Cox, “We’ve been going for four years. It was good at the start as it allowed us to meet clients, but there’s been a significant tail-off in the last two years. Essentially, I prefer to spend the money going directly to a country to meet our clients.”

Smart shoppers

On the other hand, some big names are taking space in the Loews for the first time. European powerhouse CLT is a debutante at Monte Carlo, Michael J. Solomon is making a first appearance under his own company banner, and German rights major UFA will be there, as will Gallic docu and drama producer Marathon.

Indeed, Helmut Thoma, head of top-rated German commercial web RTL, not only says he’s sending a larger contingent than usual, but also defends the confab against some larger cousins.

“Monte Carlo is much more exciting than Mip,” says Thoma. “There’s a greater amount of new information and in a more intimate atmosphere. The real question is how much longer will there be a call for Mip? By the time you get there, the news has already been chewed over once.”

Steve Clarke in London and David Molner in Berlin contributed to this report.