How does a programming market fare so close on the heels of the mega-market MIPCOM? Just fine, says Tim Etchells, managing director of the London Programme Market, which takes place November 18 to 20 at the Meridian Hotel in the heart of London. The market, while small by some standards, has become a must-attend for both British and, more recently, foreign producers and buyers.
The London Programme Market as it is today-a showcase mainly for independent producers-has been in existence for five years. For the eight years prior to that under the name London Screenings, it served as a stage for U.K. commercial television stations to screen their programming. According to Etchells, the London-based Producers Alliance in Cinema and Television (PACT), the market’s primary sponsor, remodeled the market into its present form because more and more of its independent members were retaining the rights to their programs and selling internationally. This market gave them a forum to help in the process.
The market’s smaller scale-hotel rooms versus stadium-sized convention centers-and a less-frenzied pace are listed by many to be among the pros of attending. The setup is simple. Hotel rooms are stripped of unnecessary furniture and distributors set up shop (some put up booths in the hotel’s function rooms). The hassles and the cost of building stands are done away with, and as all the rooms are very much the same, the competition to outdo your neighbor is lessened. Etchells notes, ‘It’s kind of like a school uniform. A uniform ensures that everyone dresses in the same way regardless of how much money you’ve got.’
And the cost, says Etchells, is another reason to attend. ‘For distributors, it’s considered cost-effective. It makes commercial sense to do it. The cash risk is far outweighed by the commercial returns. It’s as simple as that.’
And Genevieve Dexter, sales manager for London-based EVA Entertainment, agrees. ‘At the moment, the costs are reasonable. I’m never in a position to worry about whether I will recoup what I’m laying out, which is sometimes a worry at MIP.’
But Dexter speaks as a local exhibitor who d’esn’t incur hotel costs for staff or fees for equipment rental. Tapestry International, a New York-based distributor specializing in documentary and children’s programming, d’es incur these costs. Yet the company is returning for its second year as an exhibitor, and Nancy Walzog, Tapestry’s president, admits that it still is a ‘reasonably cost-effective show.’
While PACT’s changes opened up the market to independent producers, it also opened it up to foreign producers (according to Etchells, about 70 percent of the distributors are U.K.-based and 30 percent are from other countries)-a move encouraged by buyers, but not by all exhibitors. Anita Cox, head of sales for Scottish Television Enterprises, believes the show should be for British product first and foremost. ‘I wasn’t keen to see it opened up into a mini-MIPCOM. Once you start getting the American distributors in there, it tends to lose its purpose. I can see the commercial realities and the economics of scale, but I think as a London program market, it should be about the British.’
Susan Hewitt, head of sales for the London office of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Sales International, points out that when the market did cater to British-only companies, clients who came for that market would still come to see those foreign distributors with London offices. ‘So, if anything, they’re happier because they can see us all under one roof,’ she says.
Tapestry’s Walzog points out that quality programming, not the origin of the programming, should be the deciding factor in opening up the market. ‘If it’s going to survive and continue to attract buyers, it should be about the level of programming, not where it comes from. It should have enough programming to satisfy and make the trip worthwhile for [buyers]. That’s how you make a successful market.’
Falling only six weeks after one of the biggest programming markets in the world might be considered problematic, but time and again, participants on both sides of the deal-making process tout this placement on the event calendar as a plus.
Penny Harris, controller of programming for The Family Channel in Britain, uses the market to see all the people she d’esn’t have time to see at MIPCOM. ‘I find it very useful. MIP gets so heavy with meetings every half-hour. I continue many of my meetings here.’
The generally slower pace is also cited as reason why many deals are closed here. ‘At MIPCOM, everyone has half-hour meetings and they’re rushing around like headless chickens,’ says EVA’s Dexter. ‘Quite often, you don’t get to achieve everything you wanted to achieve. Whereas at a London Programme Market meeting, you can actually have a working meeting. It’s not just pitching. You’ve actually got time to sign deals and work out the little details.’
Initially, when the late fall date was chosen, MIPCOM didn’t exist, says Etchells. ‘So it was always planned to be a good distance from MIP-TV in April, but then MIPCOM came into the picture.’ He admits that a pre-MIP-TV date in March is considered from time to time, but no immediate plans are in the works.