×

Why Television is Hitting the Road for Festivals

The television business is on the move, as smallscreen festivals become an increasingly important part of the way networks and studios do business. Helping to break through the avalanche of content to bring shows and talent to fans and build social-media buzz, the TV fest circuit amounts to a nonstop promo tour that spans the globe.

Hard on the heels of the fourth annual ATX Television Festival, which wrapped June 7 in Austin, some industryites took off for the Monte Carlo TV Festival, which runs through June 18, while others will hit the first-ever Seriesfest June 18-21 in Denver. Then they’ll gear up to head to San Diego for the increasingly TV-centric Comic-Con from July 9-12.

Alexandra Shapiro, exec VP of marketing and digital for USA Network, says festivals help to distinguish a show early by providing the kind of momentum that normally would require much more marketing money. “In a world where it’s harder and harder to break out, that kind of association and recognition helps,” she says.

Oscar winner Patricia Arquette, who’s promoting CBS series “CSI: Cyber,” was honored June 13 on the opening night of the European seaside Monte Carlo fest, scheduled to hold screenings of “Empire” and “Aquarius,” and welcome “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” actor Terry Crews, “NCIS” star Brian Dietzen and “The Vampire Diaries’ ” Kat Graham and Candice Accola.

“Talent understands how competitive the landscape is,” says Shapiro, who also handles festival planning for USA. “And to be able to showcase your properties and yourself in front of a highly influential audience that’s made up of both consumers and trade (is an) upside that is a lot greater than losing a day or two of your personal life. They realize this is part of how we have to market in this day and age.”

USA has been a major presence across this year’s circuit, headlining ATX with the opening-night premiere and party for upcoming gang-themed drama “Complications,” as well as using the event to promote established series, like caper law drama “Suits,” which hosted a panel. The network’s Christian Slater hacker drama “Mr. Robot” nabbed an audience award at SXSW, also screened at Tribeca, and will make its way to SeriesFest.

Hoping to join ATX, Atlanta’s ATV Fest and the fall New York Television Festival as important stops on the TV fan-promotion train, SeriesFest is luring attendees with an opening-night bash that features singer-songwriter John Legend and comedian Whitney Cummings performing at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre.

Even with established film festivals like Sundance and SXSW starting to merge their formats and spotlight television, too, ATX co-exec directors and founders Caitlin McFarland and Emily Gipson say they’re getting better at winning the fight for the most important shows on their wish list. “We fight hard for things,” Gipson says.

The Austin fest provided a down-home atmosphere not only for studios to build and maintain buzz for fan-favorite series — but also an intimate setting for showrunners to bond with passionate fans as well as each other. Beau Willimon, Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson, for example, chatted amiably in the green room; Plec even sat in on Damon Lindelof’s “The Leftovers” panel, throwing out one of the first questions during the audience Q&A.

Fans also find a sense of community at festivals dedicated solely to television, like ATX, which the duo explains continues to be the TV-centric fest’s unique flavor.

“There are rabid fans that don’t have a place to go so [we’re] giving them a place to meet and a community — a lot of it is running into a cast member or creative, but it really is more about the community. Television as a medium forms a community so giving them a real life place is a unique experience,” McFarland says. “When we started it, there really wasn’t any place for just television to go to. It speaks to the medium itself and the content being created.”

 

ATX has already sold more than 25% of next year’s passes, and studios, networks and talent understand the benefit of signing up for panels and screenings that play to superfans who influence other fans. “They see that ripple effect,” says Gipson, “and see what an impact that can have.”

More TV

  • Arrow -- "Fadeout" -- Image Number:

    How 'Arrow's' Series Finale Will Give 'Everyone a Satisfying Ending'

    As the CW’s “Arrow” prepares to sign off after eight seasons, the writers had a difficult balance to strike in the final episode: acknowledging the changes that have come to Earth Prime in the aftermath of the timeline-changing “Crisis on Infinite Earths” arc, wrapping up the characters from the mothership series and also leaving enough [...]

  • Awkwafina is Nora From Queens

    TV Ratings: 'Awkwafina is Nora From Queens' Scores Big Debut for Comedy Central

    Awkwafina’s incredible run of success continues, as the numbers for the debut of her new Comedy Central show make for more than pleasant reading. Episode 1 of “Awkwafina is Nora from Queens” has amassed 818,000 total viewers after three days of delayed viewing, which represents a healthy 67% boost from the Live+Same Day tally of [...]

  • Members of the music community lost

    Grammys' 'In Memoriam' Omits 'Dead' Lyricist, Prodigy Frontman; Misspells Names

    The Recording Academy’s “In Memoriam” section, which traditionally runs towards the end of the Grammy Awards ceremony and honors those in the music industry who died in the previous year, is bound to displease many — as the internet’s ire proves annually. Omissions are to blame: some due to time constraints, others to very recent [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Innovative Artists Signs Deal With Writers Guild of America

    Innovative Artists has signed a deal with the Writers Guild of America that allows the agency to represent WGA members following a nine-month standoff. The agency issued an announcement Monday through Owner and President Scott Harris, along with the Innovative Artists’ Executive Committee. “We are proud to support our literary agents and the talented writers they [...]

  • Carmi Zlotnik

    Starz's Carmi Zlotnik Exits as President of Programming to 'Pursue New Creative Endeavors'

    Carmi Zlotnik, Starz’s president of programming, is exiting the company after a decade with the premium cabler to “pursue new creative endeavors,” Variety has learned. Zlotnik has been with the company since 2010, overseeing the development and production of “Power,” “Outlander,” “American Gods,” “Vida,” “The Girlfriend Experience,” “The White Queen,” “Black Sails,” “Magic City,” and [...]

  • 'Saved by the Bell' Sequel Series

    'Saved by the Bell' Sequel Series at Peacock Rounds Out Main Cast

    The upcoming continuation of “Saved by the Bell” at the NBCUniversal streamer Peacock has found the final members of its main cast. Haskiri Velazquez, Mitchell Hoog, Alycia Pascual-Pena, and Belmont Cameli will all star in the series. They join previously announced series lead Josie Totah as well as John Michael Higgins, who will play the [...]

  • Billie Eilish Grammy performance

    Grammy Awards Ratings Slip to New Demo Low

    The 2020 Grammy Awards fell off enough to hit a new key demo low in the Nielsen ratings. In the time zone adjusted fast nationals, the Sunday awards telecast on CBS drew a 5.4 rating in adults 18-49 and 18.7 million viewers. That is down a scant 3% in the key demo and 6% in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content