By Leah Hochbaum
The 28th annual Banff World Television Festival, which takes place June 10-13 at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in Banff, Alberta, is officially under way.
Interestingly, the event attracts a large number of Canadians who are not reflected in the official numbers because they don’t register, preferring instead to hang around the main hotel lobby in order to save on registration fees.
One unique characteristic of Banff is that it encompasses several elements: conference, festival and awards. It is the combination of these three elements that creates the fourth: The TV market.
VideoAge spoke with participants and Banff officials to learn what makes this Canadian “market” different from all other TV markets.
“Banff is primarily a content creation event, not a sales market,” said Jennifer Harkness, executive director of the festival. “Sales do happen, but this is more about helping producers make production deals or find co-production partners.”
Harkness was thrilled about a speaker slate that included Dawn Airey, director of Global Content, ITV; Rob Thomas, creator and executive producer of critically acclaimed and recently cancelled CW series, Veronica Mars; and Greg Daniels, executive producer of series including comedies The Office and King of the Hill.
In addition, Carol Mendelsohn, executive producer and showrunner of CBS’s megahit, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and co-creator and executive producer of CSI: Miami and CSI: New York, received the Award of Excellence on Sunday, June 10. The prize acknowledges exceptional achievement through a body of work over an extended period of time. “Carol’s hugely successful career has earned her international recognition and admiration,” said Harkness. “We are delighted to have the opportunity to acknowledge this with the Award of Excellence and provide delegates with access to the thought processes of one of the most powerful women in Hollywood.”
But what Harkness was especially proud of at this year’s Banff was a panel entitled “Code Green: Environmental Responsibility in the Media.” The panel, which took place on Monday, June 11, featured environmentalist David Suzuki, director Tim Flannery and actor Daryl Hannah, who discussed ways the television industry can help save the planet. Suzuki was also the inaugural recipient of a new award created in his honor, the David Suzuki Science and Environmental Media Award, which recognizes outstanding professional and personal achievements in raising public awareness of environmental issues through the visual media. Suzuki was surprised with the prize at a luncheon held on June 11.
“We’ve gone green, too,” said Harkness, citing Banff’s own environmentally friendly acts such as printing its programs on recycled paper and promoting ride sharing among participants.
Though the powers-that-be at Banff was busy ensuring the survival of the planet, they still made time for the most important aspect of any television festival: deal-making.
And it’s the deal making that keeps TV execs coming year after year, after all. Josh Raphaelson of Canada-based Program Partners made two announcements at Banff. First, that the company cleared its procedural drama ReGenesis in 75 percent of the U.S. and second, that Program Partners has secured clearances for Merv Griffin’s Crosswords in Ontario and Alberta. The game show has already been cleared in 85 percent of the U.S.
“Banff is really extraordinary,” said Raphaelson. “Other international markets are primarily transactional between distributors and networks. Producers are usually an afterthought. But Banff is all about producers.” He cited a menu of creative recipes Banff cooked up to facilitate meetings between producers and commissioning editors, including face-to-face meetings in which 100 key international commissioning editors, all looking for the next big thing, meet up with producers looking to provide said big thing. “Other markets are about how quickly you can turn over meetings at your booth. Here, it’s different.”
Thunderbird’s Michael Shepard concurred. “Banff’s really casual, but it’s also a great opportunity to spend some time with people in different settings not only geared toward selling product. This market is about overall television development,” he said.
And it’s also about fun. “I’m most looking forward to winning the golf tournament I’m in here,” joked Shepard.