By Dom Serafini

Have you noticed that at this MIP-TV, VideoAge isn’t carrying its usual “Seminars 4 U” feature? It had become a tradition for us to list those seminars that our editorial staff deemed worthwhile to attend. Lately, however, this particular feature has become a source of aggravation for all of us at VideoAge. Market organizers tend to object to it, and they let us know in no uncertain terms.

The most recent market organizer to blast us for our seminars review was NATPE president Rick Feldman during the Las Vegas-based NATPE 2009. “How could you possibly comment on seminars before they actually take place?” he objected. And my response was: “How could you possibly have a seminar called ‘International: No Longer An Ancillary Business.’ VideoAge didn’t go negative, but doesn’t that title say it all? International has not been an ancillary business for over 20 years now! It’s the business.” Plus, it was pointed out that the seminars review had to be published in the market’s first day Daily if it was to be of any help to the Daily publication’s readers. To review seminars after the fact doesn’t bring back the time wasted attending them.

My explanations must have convinced him of our good intentions because thereafter Feldman gifted me with two lunch tickets for Table X, the newly inaugurated (and rather expensive) restaurant on NATPE’s convention floor.

Nonetheless, despite the fulfilling ending, that latest encounter left me somewhat shaky. Deep inside me there was the feeling that it reflected the underlying and seemingly universal thinking, which is: Big trades like The Hollywood Reporter and Variety don’t bother with controversy, why on earth does VideoAge? Who do you think you are, The New York Times?

And to think that we honestly believed we were providing a service to our readers and, by prodding the market organizers, pushing them to improve the quality of their seminars! How naïve on our part!

The more my mind went back to it, the more agitated I got: “All that work and it isn’t in the least bit appreciated.” Granted, we at VideoAge tend not to favor seminars because, in our view, they get people off the exhibition floor and into dark rooms where all kinds of things go on, apart from pure buying and selling, which is the raison d’etre of a market.

Nevertheless, loathe to have our feelings interfere with our editorial integrity, in writing that NATPE “Seminars 4 U” review feature, we had to go through 57 seminars (that’s about 30 printed pages), carefully read all the synopses, evaluate the panelists by their accompanying bios, assess the seminars’ pertinence to our core readers and make a list based on potential interest (would we cover it? is it newsworthy?), assess panelists’ experience in the field, whether it is a sleep-inducing PowerPoint presentation, whether it has the right mix of topic and panelists, whether there are too many panelists on the dais and check the moderators’ credentials. We don’t have any qualms praising moderators from competing publications, like we often did with THR’s Elizabeth Guider or WSN’s Anna Carugati, and we’re never decidedly negative. In other words, we just list the seminars deemed noteworthy, rather than dissing or mentioning the others.

The exercise with seminar review taught us several lessons. It reinstated what the evergreen 90-year-old Italian politician, Giulio Andreotti, always believed and lived by:

1. “Power wears out who doesn’t have it.” Indeed, we have to face the reality that the trade press has no power whatsoever, and this could be one of the reasons we trade journalists are worn out.

2. “To assume the worst about someone isn’t holy, but often it’s the right surmise.” This is a take on Intel’s Andy S. Grove’s book, Only the Paranoid Survive. The premise is that rules have changed. In our case, a publication that is able to spot this and act upon it will be the one moving forward. The most successful ones are those that are always questioned and are looking over their shoulders.

3. “A rebuttal is the same news given twice.” This is why very few TV executives comment publicly on stories that are not too flattering. On the other hand, pressures are applied on several levels.

Now, for a grandiose closing. If seminars at TV and film markets end up becoming mere trampolines for entertainment executives to promote their companies and products, go ahead and blame VideoAge.

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