Rome’s MIA market, the growing showcase for international TV series, feature films and documentaries, is on track to hold its sixth edition both physically and online on Oct.14-18 in the Italian capital. The new-concept mart – whose acronym stands for Mercato Internazionale Audiovisivo, or International Audiovisual Market – has secured a calendar spot as an important platform to buy and sell quality fresh European film and TV product (mostly in its early stages). MIA gains particular significance this year owing to the fact that the Mipcom TV market in Cannes – that immediately precedes it – has gone entirely online, as has the American Film Market in November.

Barring complications, MIA, for which roughly 280 international execs are expected in the Eternal City, will be the first bona fide European market held with a significant physical component since Berlin’s EFM in February, prior to the pandemic.

Variety spoke to MIA director Lucia Milazzotto about the challenges posed by the pandemic to organizing this year’s edition. Excerpts from the conversation

How did you navigate through the coronavirus crisis and figure out how to organize MIA?

We watched the evolution of the pandemic situation in various countries and tried to adapt accordingly. We knew there was high expectation for the Cannes Marché, which then took place digitally in June. So with (Italian motion picture association) ANICA and (TV producers’ association) APA the first thing we did was invest to set up a digital platform that guaranteed the event would take place and would also allow the participation of people who could not physically attend.

But at the same time we made a strong commitment to hold a physical event in an effort to provide a European setting where, after almost a year of hiatus, spontaneous meetings among professionals could take place that are really important for networking. The platform can be a business booster, but it can’t replace the informal personal contact that has been especially typical of MIA from the onset.

MIA has always been totally different from MIPCOM and AFM. What’s the concept behind it and its raison d’être?

MIA was born as a particular format, a re-think of existing market formulas. We are targeting those players who increasingly operate fluidly through all sectors in the value chain. We represent three interconnected universes: movies, drama, and docs, and we’ve been following these three sectors through the evolution of the market.

On top of that we are a boutique market; we don’t have ambitions to become huge. We want to be very efficient in terms of the goal that we set ourselves as our mission, which is to be a market born to sustain the internationalization of Italy’s media industry. Italy’s big asset is medium- to high-quality product. So we are focusing on high-quality product with a strong European connotation.

I think it’s fair to say the international industry has responded positively.

Yes. This is an approach to which industry operators have reacted well. By being a smaller market MIA represents a more efficient and effective proposition compared with markets that come right before or after us, especially given our attention to high-quality European product. It’s a typical B2B business market.

Ultimately it comes down to the product that’s on display.

We focus on very new product. The idea is to not be the last market of the year, but the first market of the following year. In this respect our selection is crucial. We received 400 projects this year. Roughly 30% more than last year in terms of submissions. We are a very selective and curated market that presents particularly interesting and innovative product.

So what’s the expected turnout at MIA this year?

As things stand, Italians aside, we have roughly 280 expected attendees, 99% of which coming from European countries. Most of which are coming from France, U.K., the Netherlands, Spain and Belgium. There is plenty of desire to go back to doing business in a physical setting. The response from the international industry has been strong. They’ve welcomed our attempt to try and create a physical market that will allow Europeans to bring fresh product in various stages to the marketplace.

And how are they entering Italy? What’s the travel-to-Rome situation at the moment in terms of sanitary regulations?

We are following the Schengen rules and Italy’s COVID-19 swab testing rules. There are swab test requirements for people coming from various countries, which has become the norm in our sector. If our guests can’t do a swab test before leaving, they can do one at Rome airport.