Looking at next month’s L.A. Screenings, now in its 60th year, one cannot help but marvel at the resilience of a market that was never formally organized, but grew organically.
The year 1963 was a magical one for the TV industry, with trade shows galore popping up in Europe, including MIPTV (France), MIFED (Italy), the Monte Carlo TV Festival (Monaco), not to mention NATPE and the L.A. Screenings, both in the U.S.
The L.A. Screenings were created by the U.S. studios and were born as the May Screenings, an event designed to showcase the U.S. TV networks’ fall programs. It followed the Upfront presentations in New York City, organized by the networks’ ad sale divisions to present their clients and ad agencies with the new TV shows that would soon make it to the air.
Similar in nature to the L.A. Screenings are the London TV Screenings. Originally taking place for several years around the time of the BBC Studios Showcase, for the last three years they have been spearheaded by a group of international U.K. TV distributors, and took place February 27-March 3, 2023.
One European TV buyer reported that “for some European buyers, the London Screenings have now become more important than the L.A. Screenings, as most of the content shown [in London] was available to buy with lots of rights attached. Most of the studios at the L.A. Screenings have one hand tied behind their backs because series are being held for their streaming services (although that is beginning to change as they realize they [need] those licensing fees).”
He then continued: “It was so busy [at the London Screenings] that my colleague and I had to split up on many occasions to get everything viewed, and screening went on into the evening (with distributors trying to lure buyers with some cocktails and canapés combined with a screening).”
The L.A. Screenings took on its current name in 1983 with the initiative of VideoAge, which campaigned for four years to get the more appropriate name to stick.
Throughout the years, the L.A. Screenings underwent several transformations. First, it was mostly a Canada- and LatAm-centric event, then a more international one. At one point the Screenings lasted four weeks, starting with the Canadians, then the Latins, then the Europeans, and finally the Asia-Pacific buyers, who took the market into June.
In the year 2000, the U.S. studios took control away from the international buyers, and reduced the length of the event to 10 days, including weekends, and insisted on bringing things to a close before Memorial Day (a holiday that falls on the last Monday in May). Today, the Screenings last just nine days (May 17-25), but unfortunately fall right in the middle of the Cannes Film Festival (May 16-27, 2023). This year, Isabella Marquez, who is organizing the indie portion of the Screenings at the Fairmont Century Plaza, has replaced her previous partnership with NATPE with a collaboration with C21 Media. The indie portion of the Screenings has therefore “adopted” C21’s Content LA, which moved from its previous Ebell Club venue in Long Beach to the Century Plaza Hotel on May 18-19. Previously, Marquez worked as a consultant at C21’s Content Americas in January in Miami.
Whenever there is a gathering of content buyers, one can expect to find independent producers and distributors wandering around, and the L.A. Screenings were/are no exception to this rule.
The portion that became the “Independent Screenings” also went through several transformations. In the early 1980s, various indie companies rented rooms in hotels throughout Los Angeles (including New World at the Westwood Marquis, Viacom at the Beverly Hills Hotel and Atlantis at the Four Seasons). In the 1990s, taking advantage of the fact that Latin content buyers went to L.A. ahead of the studios’ Latin screenings and all stayed at the Century Plaza hotel in the Century City area of Los Angeles, the indies started renting rooms at the same Century Plaza hotel.
The reason Latin content buyers gathered at the Century Plaza and at the nearby InterContinental Hotel (formerly Park Hyatt), was because the properties were next to Fox, and the studio offered reduced block rates to buyers. As time went on, the indies demanded to know their room numbers in advance in order to promote their presence, and thus created an entire industry of advanced hotel bookers and coordinators for the indies, including CEO Meetings’ Neal Lloyd first, and Isabella Marquez later.
Like every other TV market, the Screenings were not held as an in-person event during the 2020-2021 pandemic, returning instead in 2022, and this year they experienced yet another change with the decision of the CBS TV network (Paramount) not to participate in the Upfronts in New York City. In lieu of its typical Carnegie Hall presentation in May, the network instead chose to host smaller gatherings in April. Its Wednesday spot was quickly taken over by Netflix, which will make a presentation on May 17 at 5 p.m. at its own Paris Theater. That same day, YouTube will also present its wares at 7 p.m. at David Geffen Hall in Lincoln Center.
This year, NBC will kick off the Upfronts at Radio City Music Hall on its usual Monday morning, which falls on May 15, followed by FOX in the afternoon at the Manhattan Center.
The next day will be Disney/ABC’s turn to take to the stage, and it will do so in the afternoon at the Javits Center. On May 16, TelevisaUnivision will have its Upfront at Pier 36, and on the morning of Wednesday, May 17, Warner Bros. Discovery will present its offerings at the Hulu Theater.
This year, following the October 2022 acquisition of the majority shares of The CW network by the Nexstar station group (the former network’s owners, Paramount and Warner Bros., have each retained 12.5 percent ownership), the network will not be having its traditional Upfront.
On Wednesday, May 17, a contingent of independent content sales companies will move into action in Hollywood, followed by the studios, which will take May 20-25 for their screenings, with Sony Pictures TV sounding the closing bell on May 25.
The Latin screenings studio schedule is set to follow a traditional pattern: Paramount on Saturday, NBCUniversal on Sunday, and Warner Bros. on Monday. This year, FOX is expected to return with screenings and a special event.
As per tradition, the Canadians will begin their screenings even before the broadcast Upfronts, with Warner Bros. welcoming them on Saturday, May 13, and NBCUniversal scheduled for Sunday. The date for Deal Night has not yet been determined.
Tom Devlin, president, International TV Sales & Marketing for Allen Media Group/Entertainment Studios, who has attended the L.A. Screenings since 1986, first representing Worldvision Enterprises, then Hearst Entertainment, and now Entertainment Studios, remembers that in the early days the L.A. Screenings were “crazy expensive for the studios. But,” he said, “that was when American content was in great demand.”
Michael J. Solomon, former president of distribution at Warner Bros., who was a pioneer of the L.A. Screenings while at MCA (now NBCUni), recalled that, “No one has been able to organize [what he still refers to as] the May Screenings because there isn’t one edifice in L.A. that can hold the screenings like the Palais in Cannes. [Plus,] every studio wants to screen at their facility where they can wine and dine their clients, and the screening facilities are first-class as opposed to a hotel suite or a booth.
“The Screenings,” he added, “have changed because it used to be showing pilots that the four [U.S.] networks picked up for September broadcast. Now there are the streaming platforms that have totally changed the industry. The way all of us screened no longer exists. Too bad because those two weeks in May were not only productive for all but also a lot of fun.”
George McGhee sent the following recollection: “My first Screenings was in May 1995 when I worked for Carlton Television as head of Acquisitions. The last Screenings I attended was in 2008 (the year before I retired), when I was controller of Program Acquisitions for the BBC. [When] I was at the BBC there was definitely more pressure and competition for the best programming. The parties [at the Screenings] had become more subdued and the studios were also under more scrutiny to make business happen. [But] it was always fun and I enjoyed the whole circus.”
June Dromgoole, formerly in charge of acquisitions for several U.K. broadcasters, recalled, “My first L.A. Screenings was in 1975, although it was not organized as an official event as such, but was the first opportunity to screen the pilots for the upcoming season. I was director of Sales at Anthony Morris (London) and we represented Metromedia in Europe. Metromedia had the rights to all the Aaron Spelling productions and Starsky and Hutch was the main offering that year.
“My last Screenings was in 2007 as a consultant for Channel 5, but the last one I was really active at was in 2005 just before I retired from Channel 4. I also attended for five or six years up until 1997 as head of Purchased Programs for the BBC.” She also commented: “Over the years the screenings became much more of an organized event and dominated by the studios. The parties also became bigger as the studios competed!”
(By Dom Serafini)
This is an abridged story; a complete history of the L.A. Screenings can be found at: https://www.videoageinternational.net/l-a-screenings-2020/history-of-l-a-screenings/
Audio Version (a DV Works service)