By Dom Serafini

After 45 years in existence as an organic market, it’s time for the L.A. Screenings to become organized just for the independents. Now, before you light the fireworks, start imprecations for a “crazy Italian,” and load your shotguns, please follow the argument outlined below.

This proposal is presented bearing in mind both the interests of the studios and those of the independents. It is my belief that with the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, the studios are in danger of becoming, once again, strictly regulated, because of their sheer size and dominance.

The cries for more stringent regulations for the studios are heard from many quarters and not just from the independents. The U.S. independent industry is a sector that is comprised of some 500 production and distribution companies. Of these, the 50 largest companies account for 80 percent of the industry’s annual revenue of $13 billion, with the six studios getting over 70 percent. This means that 450 companies have to share $2.6 billion a year, or an average of $5.8 million each.

It’s now in the studios’ interest to throw the independents a few “bones.” Not objecting to and not contesting the indies getting some form of organization at the L.A. Screenings would be one of such “bones” that might keep the regulatory FCC agency, the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department off the studios’ backs.

Now, in VideoAge’s typical open and fair assessment of industry needs, we presented the idea of an organized L.A. Screenings to NATPE in the U.S., Converge in Brazil and the Achilles Media organization in Canada. The former organizes the long running TV market and conference in Las Vegas; Converge stages its annual Forum Brasil in São Paulo, and Achilles Media runs the Banff TV Festival. All three organizations would benefit both from the presence of many major international TV buyers attending the L.A. Screenings, and from the close association with independent distribution companies exhibiting there.

The involvement of any one of such organizations with the L.A. Screenings could never have happened when studios ruled the convention corridors. Nowadays, these organizations can no longer depend on studios’ support, and rely mainly on the indie business, thereby relegating studio considerations to the back seat. Groups such as Reed-Midem, which organizes MIPCOM, could not be involved with the L.A. Screenings since it is still heavily dependent on what they call the “900-pound gorillas” (i.e., the studios’) support and studios would be upset if a big organization such as Reed-Midem entered the picture, for fear that it would affect the “organic” nature of their market.

Of the three organizations we contacted, only Achilles Media showed a strong interest in the L.A. Screenings. More than review the important points of our proposal, NATPE was concerned with a ridiculous rumor circulated in May by a Miami-based consultant that VideoAge was planning to organize its own Latin market in Miami in January. Explaining that we at VideoAge cannot even organize a playdate for our kids did not fully reassure NATPE’s folks.

For the Brazilians, the thought of organizing something in Los Angeles was daunting. For these two organizations, the L.A. Screenings could have offered great synergy with their events since both are very focused on the Latin market, and the L.A. Screenings has become the premier market for Latin America, followed by NATPE, MIPCOM and Forum Brasil.

The Banff TV Festival can also benefit from a L.A. association. The Canadian conference and award ceremony lost the luster it had in the ’80s and ’90s and since it is held about two weeks after the L.A. Screenings, organizers could surely come up with a way to connect the two events.

So what should the goals be for an organized indie L.A. Screenings? Our wish would be to make it the premier market for Latin American TV buyers to benefit both the studios and the indies. To expand it as one of the major TV markets for Europeans and Australasians to fully benefit the indies.

As far as considerations are concerned, our main recommendations were not to interfere with the studios activities, conserve the informal environment, encourage the indies to continue exhibiting at their favorite hotels, arrange for a mere two-day overlap with the studios’ screenings, organize conferences during the indies’ time (before studios’ screenings) at the same hotel as most of the indie exhibitors, organize breakfast and lunch meetings with major keynote speakers, organize a major party for indies (sponsored by a group of them) and, most importantly, organize general screenings. Seminars have to attract buyers. Best if they’re invited to talk about problems with program acquisition, what they want out of a market and what distributors should be offering. The seminars should be gatherings of German, French, Portuguese, Italian and Arabic-speaking territories, plus the U.S. broadcasters who are likely looking to buy programs from overseas for their digital mux.

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