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L.A. goes back to the Latins: the screenings scrutinized.

Even before Los Angeles had elected its first Latin mayor since 1872, it seemed as though the City of Angels would return to the Latins, given the record number of Latin American buyers attending the L.A. Screenings. In effect, with about 300 Latin buyers and over 70 selling companies focusing on Latin America (out of 80 actively participating), the Screenings are now a Latin affair as much as NATPE. The trade publications that litter the event demonstrate this by featuring many ads in Spanish or geared toward that particular territory.

However, newly-elected L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (pronounced Via-ryegosa) will not follow in the footsteps of mayor Cristobal Aguilar, who ruled the city in the 19th century, but, instead, he has stated that he aims to be a mayor for all, the same way the studios will attempt to be content providers for all--selling a record number of new programs to over 1,000 buyers from 60 countries.

In terms of business, the two weeks between the Upfronts in New York--where $9.1 billion is generated from primetime advertising spots--and the L.A. Screenings--where over 60 percent of the studios' annual revenues is originated--has made May the U.S. TV industry's key month.

The Upfronts in New York were characterized by "reality," in the sense that most of the key U.S. TV network executives rehashed their networks' shortcomings.

"They called us the geezer network," commented CBS chairman Leslie Moonves, referring to the now outdated charge that the net had too many shows skewed for older demographics.

On the other hand, the WB's chairman Garth Ancier aims to appeal to an older crowd by moving from a 12-34 emphasis to an 18-34 demographic.

UPN president Dawn Ostroff mentioned the network's problems with Nielsen in regards to under-representing African-American viewership.

Introducing the NBC upfront, Saturday Night Live's Tina Fey joked that, "in a universe of 100 channels, we were number four." Jeff Zucker, president of NBC-Universal TV Group, admitted that NBC was not where he wanted it to be.

Anne Sweeney, president of Disney-ABC TV Group, said that ABC is now "a network that is back in the game, more focused."

On its part, Fox has announced plans to simplify its confusing three-part yearly schedule and move from reality to comedies.

All this when, collectively, and for the first time in recent history, ratings for the big four networks were up in both the 18-49 and 25-54 demos. Since the last season offered a rather stable schedule, the number of new shows ordered this time was 70, versus 80 in 2004.

Last year the nets made around $9.1 billion at the Upfronts (down from $9.3 billion in the previous year). This year's total is expected to be about the same, though CPM (cost per thousand viewers) is expected to rise 6-8 percent. Up to 85 percent of the nets' primetime ad revenue comes from the Upfronts.

In 2004, the studios made $16.6 billion from international TV sales. Of these, $12.6 billion came from regular television; $4 billion came from pay-TV.

But the most significant realization is that, for most independent companies, the L.A. Screenings is now a Latin event.

As a group, Latin American buyers represent the largest contingent with some 300 executives (TV outlet representatives and buyer-distributors). Even though, on an individual level, countries such as Germany, Italy and Japan, send many more buyers than any country in Latin America, the Screenings--especially for the 70 independent companies that set up shop at the Park Hyatt or Century Plaza hotels--is over for the distributors once the short window which Latins allow them has expired.

In the past, the L.A. Screenings was split three-ways: The studios hosted all buyers, and the independents set up shop for the Latins at both the afore-mentioned hotels; while distributors would screen for European buyers at the former Westwood hotel (now the W). Today only the studio screenings and independents' Latin screenings remain.

In any case, taking advantage of the large number of Latin buyers has been a task for all independents. A few years ago, the telenoveleros, the largest producers of telenovelas, decided to set up shop at the hotels a few days before the studios began their screenings. The strategy worked well until this year, when Fox started Latin Screenings on May 20, the same day the telenoveleros and other independents opened up their hotel suites.

At the traditional VideoAge breakfast meeting at the Park Hyatt hotel, it was suggested that, perhaps, since the studios are now all anticipating their Latin screenings, the indies should postpone theirs. In this case, instead of arriving in L.A. a few days earlier, the buyers would stay a few days later.

Neal Lloyd of CEO Meetings & Conferences, the company that consolidates the hotel rooms at the Park Hyatt, pointed out that this move could also represent a cost decrease for hotel rooms, since the Screenings would not conflict with the much larger, citywide E3 videogame convention. By simply moving the indies' screenings to the week following the studios' earlier start, hotel rooms would become cheaper and even more easily available, since it is the beginning of the hotels' low season.

It was also pointed out that by moving the Screenings to the following week, independents could take advantage of the long Memorial Day weekend, a major American holiday, which means little to buyers and indies from overseas, and is a time when the studios close down.

Another problem, if only a recurring one, that emerged at the VideoAge breakfast meeting was the difficulty that comes from the Screenings not being a walk-in convention, but rather an appointment-based event.

The fact that the L.A. Screenings is an organic (i.e. not organized) market, presents logistical problems for both participating independent distributors and those buyers who wish to visit them.

In this regard, VideoAge committed to creating a more business-conducive environment for the independents at next year's Screenings, by leveraging its dailies at the major international TV markets, as well as its online L.A. Screenings programs.

This will be done while keeping in mind that buyers' primary purpose at the L.A. Screenings is to preview studio fare for the new U.S. TV season, and that studios diligently work to keep buyers on their lots for long periods of time with elaborate luncheons and parties. The studios have made clear that they do not want this market to become organized, preferring instead to maintain its organic structure so that they themselves can control buyers' schedules.

With over 15 parties spread across a one week-period, this year's L.A. Screenings registered a record number of events, not seen in recent history. As for the new U.S. programming season, the studios reportedly showcased a good number of drama series and even comedies that could fly internationally--notably those from CBS Paramount, NBC Universal and Buena Vista.
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Title Annotation:L.A. Screenings
Publication:Video Age International
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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Next Article:New TV channels boost DISCOP market.

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