Approximately 100 people attended NATPE Budapest‘s very first breakfast conference, held at the Café Gerbeaud, a short walk from the Sofitel Hotel, the market’s headquarters and venue.

In a two-hour program, four panelists and a chatty moderator kept a group of NATPE participants busy (before the market started at 12:00 noon on Tuesday) by presenting their views of TV industry issues. Antony Root of HBO Europe documented the success of Central Europe’s local original HBO productions. Chello’s Peter Radnai explained his company’s strategy to get involved with shows with “high PR potentials.” FRAPA’s chairwoman Patty Geneste illustrated the benefits offered by her protection programs for format shows, after recognizing format veteran Michel Rodrigue as one of FRAPA’s founders. Eurodata’s Nassina Boudi mentioned that today “there is a global nostalgia for retro” programs, which are becoming increasingly popular with TV audiences, “because the future offers little appeal.”

On the first market day, the comments heard on the three market floors–the hotel mezzanine and the conference rooms in the hotel basement (converted to business suites and meeting tables)–mostly concerned slow foot traffic, which was attributed to the fact that, in that morning, two studios, CBSSI and Fox, as well as the indie Lionsgate, screened their new season TV fare outside the hotel, drawing an estimated 200 of the 400 buyers attending NATPE. While CBSSI screened in a nearby theater, Lionsgate rented a screening room at the Four Seasons, while Fox used the Café Gerbeaud, as did WB and NBCUniversal the previous day.

However, all the exhibitors VideoAge visited in the afternoon of opening day indicated that they’d have a full schedule the next day, but would wind down on Thursday. Nevertheless, some exhibitors, such as Caracol, Televisa and RAI, were busy right on opening day, with some no-show meetings replaced by walks-in. Also noted was the fact that, even though the U.S. studios take buyers outside the venue, their presence represents a magnet for buyers.

Among the buyer contingent, one lingering mystery is why so few Polish TV acquisition executives attend NATPE Budapest, while a great show of support was shown by local Hungarian buyers, who numbered more that 25. Among the first-time buyers, there was Tamar Zardiashvili of Georgia’s TV9, who said that she was looking for all kinds of programs because her network was new and in need of lots of content.

At the opening party, Rod Perth, president of NATPE, stressed that participants should fill out the questionnaire to be used as a road map to figure out a better future for NATPE’s June CEE show, also in light of the fact that the Sofitel doesn’t offer screenings facilities, forcing the studios to go outside the venue.

But how did the market go for some exhibitors? According to The Fremantle Corporation’s Diane Tripp, there were “lots of opportunities for our scripted family series. This is an underserved genre in a world of reality and lifestyle. Buyers still require wholesome family series….even if it’s rerun in the market.”

For Peace Point’s Andrew Schreiber, “The market went extremely well. As we were introducing an entirely new line of product to these buyers, there was considerable interest and we were able to initiate serious negotiations on a number of packages of films with both pan-regional and national buyers.”

Helge Köhnen of Global Screen reported that “The market itself went well, the meetings were valuable and I met many of my important regular clients as well as new promising contacts. However, all clients in general are very careful with spending money, in view of an uncertain financial outlook, so they check very thoroughly which programs they really need.”

For Caracol’s Roberto Corrente the market “went much better than I thought. Tuesday was a little slow, but it was stable and the meetings were very productive.”

As far as finding new buyers, Tripp noticed “dedicated VoD channels launching all over Eastern & Central Europe.” She added that, “sadly, buyers have limited budgets and some did not even attend.” Similarly, Schreiber found that “the biggest change is the increase in the number of buyers who focus primarily on VoD rights.” Köhnen “noted a shrinking attendance from Russia/CIS – I think they prefer to go to Kiev Media Week instead,” he commented.

For some sellers the best response from buyers came from “Poland, Romania, Croatia and Russia,” according to Tripp. For Schreiber, “[the] strongest [response came] from the Balkan territories.” For Corrente, “Hungary, Poland, Serbia, Croatia, Russia and Albania among others.” For Köhnen: “Hungary, Czech and Slovak Republics and Poland.” He added that, compared to last year, “It seemed that the market was weaker in terms of participants in general. [But] for Global Screen, it was better since–because the Major Screenings and the Market were now separate events–I could meet with everybody whomever I wanted to see.”

As for suggestions on how to improve the market, Tripp said: “Maybe NATPE should find a venue that can offer more affordable and universal meeting spaces.”

Köhnen said that despite rumblings of a location change, “I believe it would be the best to keep the market in Budapest.”

Added Corrente: “If NATPE Budapest wants to still be relevant in the years to come, it must deal with the fact that the independent sellers, which are the ones that keep NATPE alive, should be a priority. Instead of having the [U.S.] studio screenings take place before NATPE, they should allow the beginning of the event to be for the independents. This way the independents do not get overlooked. The majors can have their event after.”

Please note: VideoAge’s office will be closed for summer vacation until July 22. The Watercooler will be on hiatus until that week, too.

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