Buyers and distributors around the globe are braced for plenty more living room Zoom sessions, as the question of when international TV markets will return to in-person affairs remains very much up in the air.
However, when executives are able to press the flesh, so to speak, once more, organizers might have to re-think their agendas.
“I think we’re going to need to change the schedules to fit in a lot more time for socializing. Nothing replaces that when you’re all together,” says Lisa Honig, Fremantle’s SEVP of television & digital distribution for North America, only half-jokingly.
The lack of a stable calendar of in-person markets has meant that distributors have had to adapt to “a 12 month continuous cycle” of presenting content to buyers, according to Honig. While virtual markets have led to an improvement in screening technology, and more regular, open lines of communication between buyers and sellers, Honig is confident that in-person markets will resume as soon as possible and that it won’t “be a case of one replacing the other.”
Fremantle was one of the driving forces behind transforming this year’s London Screenings into one of the more significant events on the international TV calendar, and while Honig won’t comment directly on the prospect of Fremantle hosting its own digital showcase, the exec did say the company will continue to participate in a “mixture of big global and local events,” as well as relying on its new digital systems and screening site.
Recent successes on the U.S. distribution front for Fremantle include Danish series “The Investigation” (pictured above) and the BBC series “The Salisbury Poisonings,” which delivered strong launches on HBO and AMC respectively. Honig highlights South African drama “Reyka” and cop show “The Responder,” led by Martin Freeman, as upcoming scripted highlights on Fremantle’s U.S. distribution radar.
Meanwhile, due to the iconic May Screenings not taking their usual shape this year, NATPE and Prensario International are teaming for a revamped LA Virtual Screenings showcase, which is giving companies from across the globe access to markets they may not have participated in otherwise.
TV France International, an organization which promotes French series and creativity, is attending the event for the first time and helping to present nine series, including animated offering “Grosha & Mr B” and premium drama “Gloria,” across a range of genres. Sarah Hemar, the company’s executive director, says the relatively new event provides an excellent opportunity to increase the visibility of French content in more American and Latin American-centric markets.
“I’m just curious how it goes because it’s a first,” Hemar says. “We are quite strong in South America with animation, but we want to do better in fiction and documentaries.”
Guillermo Pendino, VP Brand Head South Cone at ViacomCBS, says the LA Virtual Screenings is an important event on the Telefe calendar, providing a space to “see the best content from the best and most creative companies in one place.”
“It’s a place to exchange ideas, discover new formats. We can discover new content and new trends,” says the exec who has helped launch a variety of international formats, including “MasterChef Celebrity” (pictured below) and “The Voice,” of late on the Argentinian network.
However, as smaller digital markets continue to pop up and studios and distributors become increasingly reliant on their own showcases, the future of some of the larger key TV markets appears to be in some uncertainty, both from the point of view of the organizers and the attendees.
“I think the buyers, like us, really want to flood back as soon as we can, but they will have a financial director who has discovered they can do their work with much lower costs but the same efficacy,” Hemar says.
The TV France exec also points to burgeoning environmental concerns as a factor. Jetting around the world and “being in a plane once or twice a week feels crazy,” she says.
However, ultimately, all three execs are in agreement that the big markets still need to happen. Pendino concludes that although it could be a while before many global execs are willing and able to return to in-person markets (“it depends on how the war is going in each country,” as he puts it), the larger markets are still essential for all players.
“I think like us, many companies have also chosen to maintain constant and fluid contact with their customers and partners throughout the year. But without a doubt the annual agenda of major events will continue to set the pace of the industry for the time being. I think that there will be a hybrid scheme where in-person and virtual co-exist. I think it’s a big challenge to the future of our industry,” Pendino says.