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Peak Global TV Events: How the Expanding Biz Is Rewriting the TV Calendar

TV is a busy, global business and an explosion of festivals, markets and events means that producers, buyers and sellers now have a more dizzying array of potential calendar dates than ever before.

Historically, international industry folk convened upon Cannes twice a year, headed to L.A. for the May Screenings if they wanted shiny U.S. shows, and maybe took in NATPE and a specialist event along the way. All of these are still in place, but the established order is being challenged. The legacy events have been joined by distributor showcases, film festival-style shindigs featuring high-end TV dramas and regional and genre-specific get-togethers.

An acquisition exec’s yearly travel schedule could now include NATPE in Miami in January; Series Mania in Lille in March; MipTV in Cannes in April; the L.A. Screenings in May; Serie Series in Fontainebleau, France, in June; Discop in Africa in July; the Edinburgh TV Festival in August; Le Rendez-vous in Biarritz in September; Mipcom in October; AFM in Santa Monica in November; and the Asia TV Forum in December.

That doesn’t even factor in genre-specific events such as Annecy, RealScreen, Kidscreen and Sportel. Nor does it include the film festivals, including Berlin, Venice and Toronto, that have embraced TV. Tech-focused events such as IBC in Amsterdam, the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and CES have also deepened the range of content-themed events.

Underlying the shift is the change in distribution in an era of big-budget drama and complex funding and sales partnerships. “Selling is less about simply presenting content,” says Stuart Baxter, president of television at Entertainment One.

EOne send execs to most of the major markets — it will launch Stephen Dorff Western procedural “Deputy” at Mipcom — and has its own London event. But as the international scene evolves, with programming launched year-round and distributors having more boots on the ground, sellers talk to customers more regularly than in the past.

“We don’t wait for an event to speak to them,” says Baxter. “No market is indispensable anymore.”

On the buyer side, increased competition means a need to dig deeply into what’s coming, and to be in the room when the industry is talking.

“We want to hear from industry leaders on what they think, how they see the future and what the new platforms are doing creatively,” says Emma Sparks, head of acquisitions at channels group UKTV.

The international boom is also driven by a move away from using acquired U.S. content to fill schedules. The L.A. Screenings were considered the highlight of a buyer’s year as the studios treated them to top-tier Hollywood hospitality, but a move away from programming international channels with American series means local events assume greater importance. The fact that several studios are likely to withhold some programming for their own streaming services, or limit exclusivity, also makes Los Angeles in May less vital.

The release pattern for shows has also become more year-round, meaning that meeting twice-yearly in Cannes is no longer enough. “Conversations need to happen 52 weeks of the year between producers, creatives and platforms and broadcasters,” says Adam Bishop, senior vice president, content sales, BBC Studios. “It shows the changing way of how we work and interact.”

BBC Studios Showcase has been a catalyst for change. Once a relatively sedate affair in the seaside town of Brighton, it is now a talent-driven spectacular in Liverpool, with 700 acquisitions execs attending from around the world. The likes of All3Media, eOne and ITV Studios have now piggybacked on that with glitzy show-and-tells of their own in London soon after Showcase.

“There’s more out there — more conversations to have with customers, more studios wanting to get their content out there,” says Adrian Last, ITV Studios global marketing director.

For its drama festival, ITV Studios took over the Roundhouse arena in North London, which usually holds thousands of concertgoers, in February.

Entertaining a couple of hundred acquisition folks might not come cheap, but the return on that investment is their undivided attention instead of hurried half-hour meetings at the major markets.

One result of the increased activity in the U.K. is that MipTV in April has been challenged. Galvanized by competition, falling attendance and the likes of BBC Studios and Endemol Shine staying away, organizer Reed Midem has begun a revamp of the event. Following an industry survey, MipTV is now moving inside the Palais des Festivals, and there will be a new buyer program.

“The goal is for there to be a true transformation, to take a different approach and offer a different experience,” says Lucy Smith, who has the considerable task of keeping Mip at the top of TV confabs after its more than 50 years.

The sheer scale of MipTV and Mipcom, Smith argues, provides a good return on the outlay required to be there. “It offers an opportunity to meet so many people in one place,” she says. “You need to look at the efficiencies of having 4,500 buyers at Mipcom and 3,500 at MipTV.”

Meanwhile, NATPE kicks off the international calendar in January. The Miami setting makes it a natural home for the Latin American business to gather — and does no harm in terms of attracting Europeans.

NATPE boss J.P. Bommel says the secret sauce for events has three ingredients: facilitating meetings between the right people, providing a place where deals can get done and offering business intelligence. “If you have those, people will come,” he says.

NATPE attracts 400 exhibiting companies, and there’s no room for big additional markets, according to Bommel. Growth will come from targeting specific communities or locales, he says. The fest launched a streaming event this year, too.

The underlying change that has ripped up the traditional TV industry calendar will continue: TV is becoming simultaneously more local and more international. Buyers, sellers and creators will continue to rack up air miles for the foreseeable future. But where their flights will land is less becoming clear as a new pecking order is established.

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