TORONTO — Robert Montgomery is remarkably laid back as he presides over the first new-look Banff World Television Festival since taking the top job last year after the confab nearly went bankrupt. “It’s not a make or break year,” he says of the four-day meet, which kicked off June 12 in the Rocky Mountain resort town of Banff, Alberta. “We don’t think in those terms. We’ve stepped in and we’ve got a 10-year relationship with the industry to host and run the festival.”
That said Montgomery, CEO of the event and Banff’s management company, Achilles Media, has been working hard to turn it around since stepping in just weeks before last year’s edition.
“He probably has more frequent flyer miles than anyone I know,” says Kevin Beggs, prexy of programming and production for Lions Gate Television. He has been attending Banff in various roles since 1999, and is one of many industryites worldwide whom Montgomery has been kibbitzing extensively with over the year on how to improve Banff.
“I think he’s an interesting and charismatic guy who believes in the festival,” Beggs says, “and we believe in it as well.”
While he wanted to see Banff’s intimate and creative feel preserved, Beggs and others in the TV community called for significant changes. At the top of the list was an increased emphasis on getting business done.
“It’s got to be more about deals and potential deals and less of a government vacation,” says Beggs, citing that as the reason industry meets NATPE, Mip and Mipcom are so popular. “Banff has always walked a fine line, it’s a place where deals could happen, but it’s more of a celebration of TV’s artistry and creativity. But at the end of the day, if you want the heavy-hitters to show up in all communities, there has to be a serious belief that a deal may come out of it.”
To that end, Montgomery has lobbied hard to get “the right” industryites in town. Registration is running slightly higher than last year, with more international broadcasters signed up, including more from the U.S., than ever before.
Steady growth topped out two years ago at 1,800 delegates, when some griped that Banff had lost its intimacy. Attendance at last year’s fest shrank to about 1,300.
Montgomery is also quick to highlight the fest’s high-profile guests, among them “CSI” mastermind Anthony Zuiker, “24’s” John Cassar, A&E’s producer-anchor Bill Kurtis and writer-director-producer Lionel Chetwynd.
The fest also contains more facilitated meetings, with hundreds of pre-scheduled one-on-ones, such as the Take a Decision-Maker to Breakfast and Lunch sessions. “In the past, from what I can glean, people were mostly left to their own devices,” Montgomery says.
Also new this year will be a series of broadcaster briefing sessions. The likes of Sundance, Discovery Channel, Blighty’s Five, Germany’s ZDF, A&E, Corus, Alliance Atlantis, CTV and Global will host sessions where they share their guidelines, schedules and expectations with producers.
“Both broadcasters and producers would really like to know what other broadcasters are thinking, and there’s no other public forum for this,” Montgomery notes.
Instead of a spotlight on television programming and production from one specific country, this year’s festival is touting international co-production and collaboration. Formats, reality programming and digital distribution will come up in panel discussions.
And the new-look Banff is a day shorter than the old festival, which included many more social events, such as a karaoke evening, western barbecue and Lake Louise trip.
“It’s always been too long,” Beggs says. “I’ve never gone to the last day, it’s kind of like a bad fraternity event or a corporate retreat.”
But for Montgomery it’s all about the people. “To us the measure of success is having a critical mass of people who are making an impact on schedules around the world.”