In the past few decades, communication has changed dramatically between buyers and sellers of TV shows, movies, and new media. Yet, looking at preliminary attendance numbers for MIP 2017 — 11,083 participants — the need for a presence at a trade show has not changed.

Some of Canada’s larger program producers and suppliers were asked to weigh in, and were unanimous: Trade shows still provide the most efficient and cost-effective way of accessing the greatest number of clients and prospective buyers.

Even in the age of Skype, Apple’s Facetime, and online screening rooms “there is still no substitute for face-to-face meetings and catching up in person,” said Chris Knight, President and CEO of Gusto Worldwide Media, a producer of food and cooking content for both television and digital platforms.

Shawn Rosengarten, VP, Distribution at Montreal-based Muse Distribution International, and Natalie Osborne, chief strategy officer, 9 Story Media Group, concurred that trade shows are an essential part of sales efforts and play a major role in international distribution strategy.

For Corus Studio’s Rita Carbone Fleury, head of worldwide sales: “They present opportunities to pitch new content, build relationships and stay abreast of content trends and opportunities.”

Christina Jennings, CEO and Chairman of Toronto’s Shaftesbury Films, added “During the early stages of project development, markets provide the opportunity to meet with multiple buyers at once, allowing you to gauge the international market’s appetite for the types of shows you are developing. In terms of selling completed product, trade shows are invaluable in getting your content in front of as many decision makers as possible.”

Other companies concurred. Attending trade shows is vital to Blue Ant International’s sales and future growth. For Solange Attwood, SVP, Blue Ant International, the emergence of new content platforms means that global rights markets become a great opportunity not only to check in with existing clients, but also to continue to reach out to new ones.

“Over the course of the year, each market showcases the launch of our new slate, keeping buyers informed of new acquisitions, pre-sales and co-production opportunities across all content genres,” she said.

Donna MacNeil is VP, Marketing and Strategic Development for Marble Media, of which Distribution360, headed by Diane Rankin, is its sales and acquisitions arm. MacNeil finds that the knowledge and buzz that comes with the preparation for attendance at an important trade show is invaluable. And that there are still many buyers that use the key markets for their buying cycles and also as a barometer from which they evaluate programs!

The same markets consistently come up in the respondents’ top three: “This year “MIPCOM, MIPTV, and NATPE are the three markets we are investing the greatest resources in,” said Rosengarten, adding that “our strategy can change year to year.”

For Shaftesbury, MIP-TV, MIPCOM and Kidscreen are tops: “We specialize in scripted storytelling for all screens – these three markets have proven to be the most useful for us in moving projects forward,” said Jennings.

As a recently launched distributor, Corus is entering its second year of attending trade shows and among its priorities are MIP-TV, MIPCOM and Realscreen. “Through presence at each of these shows we are able to share our content with the worldwide marketplace,” explained Carbone Fleury.

All markets are critical to Blue Ant International’s success, said Attwood, “but MIPCOM, MIPDoc and MIP-TV provide a scale of business, given the large attendance from international buyers. We also pay special attention to Realscreen and ATF as buyers that attend those markets have traditionally enjoyed success with Blue Ant International content and brands.”

For Marble Media’s MacNeil, MIPCOM, MIP-TV, Kidscreen and Realscreen are tops due to the company’s focus on a broad selection of program categories, primarily kids, family and unscripted titles.

9 Story Media is a creator, producer and distributor of animated and live action content for young audiences. As such, its top markets are MIPJunior/MIPCOM, Kidscreen, and MIP-TV. But added Osborne: “We attend a number of markets during the course of the year, in addition to those, including NATPE, MIFA (The International Animated Film Market), Licensing Expo, Cartoon Forum and Asian Television Forum.”

In allocating resources, Gusto currently puts more into trade shows but expects to include sales visits over the next few years, too. Per Corus Studio’s Carbone Fleury: “Both are key parts of our overall sales strategy. We are in the business of servicing our global clients and use both trade shows and sales visits to make sure we keep clients aware of the depth and breadth of our programming libraries.”

Attwood said Blue Ant’s presence at international trade shows provides a home base not only for its sales team, but also for its premium production partners and adds that sales visits are a key component to its ability to deliver on those fronts.

But financial and time allocations can change from year to year. Shaftesbury’s Jennings explained that, “it really depends on the kinds of projects on a current slate and the strategy established to best move them forward. Trade shows provide producers and distributors with the opportunity to meet with multiple distribution platforms, from key territories, at once. On the flipside, market meetings are often condensed and can be rushed; it’s hard to replicate the quality of meeting you can have on a dedicated sales trip vs. a trade show. There are pros and cons to both strategies.”

9 Story strongly believes that attending markets is not enough. Osborne elaborated: “Our distribution strategy uses them to complement regular, regional sales trips, which can offer the opportunity for more focused meetings. Markets by nature can be costly endeavors. We have a large team, across distribution, development and marketing that attend some of our key markets, which is a considerable investment. Our sales trips are equally important and must work hand-in-hand with our market strategy.”

Marble Media plans each year a bit differently depending on the programs being offered. “The trade shows provide a different kind of marketing opportunity to the sales trips. A trade show is about putting your company’s best foot forward with a key focus on title launches and branding exercises that are about both sales and acquisitions. Dedicated sales trips are more focused and can often close deals that may have been started elsewhere, but they are also about showing commitment to your clients and to getting to know their territory better,” said MacNeil.

Do the seminars and conferences at trade shows benefit sales results? Shaftesbury finds, generally speaking, the majority of conference-based seminars are beneficial as a way to gather market intelligence and get a good feel for what international buyers are looking for. “As both producers and distributors, we sometimes find inspiration and often discover emerging trends at seminars and conferences thus benefiting sales. They can also provide networking opportunities,” said Jennings.

For 9 Story, though: “Because markets are such an investment, you need to maximize your time with clients and partners. When we do have the opportunity, we try to attend selective topics that resonate. Kidscreen in particular tends to be a good venue for panels and we typically will try to attend some of the seminars at MIP Junior,” said Osborne. “It’s hard to assess whether these have any impact on our sales results; they generally serve as an opportunity to hear from peers and partners in the industry, which helps inform trends and strategy.”

But most sales companies find the sheer volume of meetings they book often precludes attending seminars. However, Corus executives do review the seminars’ links made available online through trade show websites after the shows. “This adds a lot of value as it means the market experience extends beyond the actual show days. We can be more reflective on the information shared, putting the leads and opportunities reviewed to use,” explained Carbone Fleury.

Blue Ant International executives often participate in seminars and panels at international trade shows throughout the year. “Their participation on various panels offers us a platform to discuss current industry trends with our peers and position ourselves as thought leaders in our areas of expertise. It is also an opportunity to share the lessons and hear the results of other companies and their work. With shifts in consumer viewing habits, it is key to understand the challenges that our clients are facing in order to help them find solutions for their respective businesses to thrive,” said Attwood.

Over and above the regular business of buying and selling, in any year a company may have particular objectives that influence its market strategy.

At MIP, for instance, said Muse’s Shawn Rosengarten, it will be completing the pre-sales for its miniseries.

Blue Ant International is keen to seek additional co-production partners, listen and experiment across new funding models and diversify its slate of genres to sell internationally.

9 Story, for this MIP-TV, has an expanded space in the Riviera section of the Palais: “It will give us a whole host of benefits, including more room for the team and our clients, a greater presence and a private boardroom. Lastly, seven members of our team will be attending and working on their respective objectives,” said Osborne.

“Discoverability is always the challenge at any market for Gusto,” said Knight. “We are always looking for new and innovative ways to reach potential customers, in particular, using the most cost-effective form of advertising.”

Today’s political climate does not seem to be a deterrent to participation. “But one must always remain flexible and ready to respond to issues as they present themselves,” Gusto added.

And, within an ever-evolving industry, business issues can arise. For Muse “programming with global appeal across all platforms keeps us insulated from industry fluctuations,” said Rosengarten.

9 Story, Osborne says, also tries to mitigate any risk by acting globally. She finds the emergence of digital platforms has created a great deal of opportunity, particularly for content creators and producers in the kids’ space. “Children and family programming is a major driver of subscription retention for OTT platforms, and as a result has created a tremendous demand for new programming and library content.”

These sellers all hope to meet with buyers in the best circumstances. And the buyer’s view is no different: “No matter how seamless the technology is over which we now communicate, the importance of a face-to-face interaction cannot be underestimated,” said David Kines, president and co-founder of Canada’s Hollywood Suite. “It’s only when we’re sitting across from each other that you can see the nuances, body language and emotions that make up the individual you’re dealing with. Even in a short meeting, you have the time to listen to each other and gain some understanding of each other’s goals and challenges without interruption or distraction — though a meeting on a beach in Cannes can make that challenging!.

(By Isme Bennie)

Audio Version (a DV Works service)