By Dermot Horan*

Well into the early 2000s, content buyers used to go to Brighton, in the U.K., for the BBC Showcase market. It was held in a rather old-fashioned conference center that looked out over the pebble beach of this resort town. The BBC would publish a printed catalog and buyers would spend four days viewing VHS tapes (and later DVDs) of the new programming. (This eventually morphed into an online screening service as technology allowed it.)

You had your own little booth, with a monitor and a space to write your notes. There would be themed evenings at the Grand Hotel, based on some of the bigger new series, such as Planet Earth.

The market outgrew Brighton and moved to Liverpool, where there were still personal viewing booths, but also panels promoting each of the major genres of programming, including Drama, Natural History, Factual, and Kids.

With hundreds of buyers in the U.K., and the BBC market finishing midweek, there was an opportunity for other distributors to show their wares at the latter end of the week. And thus began the London Screenings.

Initially, it was mainly the larger U.K.-based companies, like ITV Studios, All3Media, Banijay, and Fremantle, that held screenings. They booked out cinemas such as the Odeon in Leicester Square, and BAFTA, and compressed their screenings into a morning, afternoon or lunchtime. All3Media in particular has built a reputation for serving up a gourmet three-course lunch in a disposable box, allowing you to eat and screen at the same time.

In the last three years the London Screenings have mushroomed. The major U.S. studios now host their own screenings (this year the London Screenings run February 26-March 1), including Paramount, Disney, NBC Universal, Warner Bros Discovery, Sony, MGM, Lionsgate, and Fox Studios. The major German and French distributors (ZDF Studios, Red Arrow, Newen, Beta Federation, and Studio Canal) are also taking advantage of all those buyers in town, as are some of the more boutique British companies like Abacus, Hat Trick, DCD, Eccho Rights, and Bossanova.

With many distributors overlapping, buyers need to pick and choose their screenings, and it is not so simple for folks to decide where to spend their time. At one period, if you were a British buyer, you could ignore the U.K. companies as they were just showing British series, which had already been commissioned by U.K. broadcasters and therefore were not for sale in your market. However, now the likes of ITV Studios or All3Media will probably be screening series from Australia, New Zealand, or Ireland, which may well be available to license in the U.K. Equally, the U.S. Studios are now representing series from all around the world.

Thankfully all the screenings take place in one postcode, London W1, so you can walk between each venue in a matter of a few minutes. The fact is, though, that you cannot attend them all. So, most broadcasters and streamers will bring at least two buyers and will split up for much of the week. Some distributors will recognise this and, cleverly, will send links to their new programming the following week to ensure everyone gets a chance to see their product.

The Hollywood studios cannot show any of their new network programming, as this will only be ready for the May screenings in Los Angeles, but they can screen those series made for streamers and premium cable channels, and these are of more interest to many buyers these days than the more old-fashioned crime and legal procedurals that used to feature in so many schedules in days gone by.

The London Screenings are now definitely a must-attend event. The venues are getting larger, and the days are getting longer, but the ability to screen programming in a dark room, away from the distractions of the office is recognized by buyers and sellers alike as time well spent.

*Dermot Horan, pictured above, is director of Acquisitions & Co-Productions, RTÉ, Ireland

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