By Dom Serafini

What’s “Independents’ Day” and why it is important to U.S. studios and independents alike?

This is not a riddle, but rather something that’s rattling our industry. And even though the facts are widely known, it’s worthwhile reviewing them.

The L.A. Screenings is an organic TV market under the tight control of U.S. studios. Years ago, when the studios exercised a benevolent power over the whole industry and, in many cases, subsidized smaller companies with their largess, independents were welcome to set up shop around Los Angeles during what were then called the May Screenings.

In those days –– when the Screenings lasted almost a month, with first the Canadians, then the Latins, followed by the Europeans and, finally the Australasians, descending on L.A. –– the indies (at that time there were companies such as New World, NBC International, Alliance, ITC, MTM, Westinghouse and Viacom – yes Viacom!) actually did some good business.

With consolidation came hardship, and the studios began reclaiming all available slots in stations’ schedules worldwide. Indeed, as one studio executive pointed out at the time: “Today we compete with even the smallest distributor for any half-hour openings.”

While pumping out independents’ oxygen, the studios made the Screenings more efficient for themselves by reducing the number of days to 10. With the new schedule there was no way that international buyers could spend any time (forget about quality time!) with independent distributors.

Some indies, especially the larger ones from Latin America, adapted to the new restrictions by making the Screenings an appointment-based market, and forgoing the floor traffic altogether. But, with each passing year, the appointments became scarcer and the no-shows bountiful. And this happened to the lucky ones. Many others were all dressed up for a market with nowhere to go. The problem was that, while the studios evolved with the changing L.A. Screenings’ times, the indies remained stuck with a model created over 25 years ago (the Screenings started 18 years earlier).

And this, in a nutshell, is the basis for the need to create an “Independents’ Day”: A day set aside exclusively to highlight independent distribution companies’ products, without interfering with studios’ activities and, at the same time, without being overshadowed by the majors.

We all can see why an “Independents’ Day” is important. Without it, time is running out for smaller companies to participate in the L.A. Screenings. If this occurs the loss will be great for all concerned. The studios will be accused of monopolizing the industry. The media will lose advertising revenue. The buyers will lose an added source of content. And the event itself will lose its luster.

Plus, it’s not that buyers don’t want to see the indies at the Screenings. On the contrary, some of them even feel guilty for not having time to pay a visit to the hotels where the indies typically set up shop.

Therefore, carving up a day for the independents at the L.A. Screenings –– the day before the studios start their power meet –– will solve everyone’s problems. But it’s important that the event resembles the studios’ own screening — with all the trimmings that go with it: Café Olé (free sponsored coffee), breakfast (by VideoAge and CEO Meeting and Conferences), a luncheon, a seminar (organized by the Florida Media Market), general screenings, and a party (courtesy of the Intercontinental Hotel). This has all been planned in order to offer buyers something they can relate to and to discourage studio renegades to stage similar events that same day.

Indeed, the “Independents’ Day” will be such a full day that buyers will certainly make a point to be there for one reason or another. Those who participate at the general screenings will receive a party bag with presents and demo DVDs. Outside the screening room there will be desks manned by distributors’ personnel to answer buyers’ inquiries.

It’s important that, even though costs are kept very low, no more than 20 companies take part at the general presentation (for 65-minutes total screening time) and that the venue is comfortable and cozy enough so that folks can bump elbows with all buyers (in this case, it will be the Intercontinental Hotel –– formerly the Park Hyatt).

Each participating company will receive four luncheon invites (courtesy of NATPE and other sponsors) and are encouraged to invite at least five buyers each (extra lunch tickets will be available at the entrance for all). With the help of promotion from the trade media, some 200 buyers are expected to participate.

For the full program and participating companies, link to: www.videoageinternational.com/downloads/volIndependents1Day.pdf or to: www.lascreenings.us/IndependentsDay.html