Good Future For Trade Shows, But Caveats Galore
Fortune Cookies at a Roundtable Galore

By Dom Serafini

Just as at the NATPE trade show in Las Vegas this past January, the general talk among the participants at February’s MILIA show in Cannes and the AFM market in Santa Monica was the poor state of the world economy, the tough market environment and the changing roles of markets in general. Since the first two subjects are beyond anyone’s control, harsh criticisms were mainly reserved for the trade shows themselves, which lately all seem to have reached a sinister, if coincidental plateau with a 40-percent drop in attendance. Plus, something which was unthinkable before has happened: we witnessed the demise of the Monte Carlo TV Market, the closing of the ALTV conference (and related association) and the end of the London Market. Now we are contending with the new trend of turning festivals into organized markets (e.g. Toronto, Berlin, Venice and Sundance) and an increased appetite for small, focused markets such as DISCOP’s format market in Lisbon, Portugal, RaiTrade’s in Portofino, Italy, and BBC’s Showcase in Brighton, U.K.

Under these circumstances, it was inevitable that the future of film and TV trade shows would become the topic of Video Age’s roundtable discussion at the AFM. Participants included representatives from three countries from production and distribution companies, an industry association, a public relations firm, a service facility, and a consultant. Present were: Pedro F. Leda, president of Argentina’s Ledafilms; James P. Marrinan, managing director of Los Angeles-based M3; Giuseppe Massaro, head of international relations at Italy’s ANICA (representing about 150 Italian production and distribution companies); Sheila Morris of Morris Marketing (with a roster of 12 clients in the production and distribution field); René Leda, president of Broadcast Standards, Inc., and Larry Gershman, chairman of WIN.

VideoAge. Are markets still important?

Larry Gershman. In general yes, but they’re not as important as they were, and there are too many markets.
Sheila Morris. Yes, but my clients are sending fewer people.
Rene Leda. Markets are needed to keep better contact with clients. It would be great if we could have one every two months.
Jim Marrinan. They are very important for the independents. We need constant communication and [at the markets we] are able to see more people per dollar spent than with visits. Markets are still effective as long as one doesn’t get carried away, like the majors did at NATPE.
Pedro Leda. Markets are important. We have to attend the markets and visit territories. However, nowadays at markets, contracts are not signed; they merely whet the buyers’ appetite.
Giuseppe Massaro. Yes, they’re important but less than in the past.

VideoAge. Are the market-dates ideal?

Gershman. No, they’re an anachronism. MIP, which is the granddaddy of them all, is absolutely at the wrong time, and it’s become overblown: agents, clients, talent, representatives of writers - people got in the way. All we did was pay for a lot of lunches. I would be talking to a buyer and people would be interrupting on irrelevant matters, trying to show off. It took away the whole value of MIP.
Morris. No, dates are not ideal. We found ourselves with fewer and fewer announcements for our clients.
R. Leda. Some dates are on target, others are not.
Marrinan. For television, dates should be combined: NATPE-AFM, MIP-L.A. Screenings (in a MIP-TV environment) and MIPCOM-MIFED. All back-to-back to save traveling costs and time because all of us have cross-over business. There are very few international theatrical releases these days; it’s all direct-to-video or television business.
P. Leda. We’re so used to those dates … for us MIP-TV is important because we can pick something that we can promote at the L.A. Screenings. The October MIPCOM is fine because we may pick up something that we can promote at NATPE in January.
Massaro. Television market dates are OK; but there are too many film markets and their dates present a problem.

VideoAge. Are markets cost effective?

Gershman. Less effective than they used to be, but we still have to go.
Morris. For some of my clients, they’re cost effective. A lot of the companies we work with are small and don’t have the manpower to travel to all the regions but they can see everyone at the convention.
R. Leda. So-so. They’re cost effective if followed up with sales calls to finish deals initiated at the market.
Marrinan. If one is selective in market attendance, they can be more cost-effective than going door-to-door. But today buyers are at the market expecting you to visit their office as a strategy to prolong the process until they have a chance see all the products they want to. In the old days, because of the competition, the pressure was to close on the spot. Now the style is more laid back so it’s not as cost-effective as it was to attend the market previously.
P. Leda. The tendency is to reduce costs [to make them cost effective].
Massaro. They’re not cost effective, buy they give visibility.

VideoAge. What could be improved?

Gershman. Find more convenient dates. Make them less expensive.
Morris. Better timing; encourage the key people to stay longer.
R. Leda. Become less expensive. There are too many organizations trying to get rich organizing events.
Marrinan. Make them less expensive, multi-purpose events (e.g. MipDoc and MIP-TV, Mipcom Jr. and MIPCOM). Find synergies. Sportel, for example, stands alone.
P. Leda. It’s a market-by-market consideration. Make it easier to go around faster and combine markets with other events. But this trend of people coming to the markets for fewer days will not change. For instance, as television distributors, we do not buy series anymore because they are not in demand since they are over-exposed on pay
television before they reach free TV in Latin America. The majors do so many series that when we come with ours, buyers already have four or five from Fox which they have not yet played because they had to take them with a big movie package. The clients still need our product to fill spaces to reduce their overall budget for the year, but they’re not competing for it as before.
Massaro. Costs are problematic. Stands are very expensive. Also, longer markets should be reduced to five days at the most.

VideoAge. Which are the most important markets and which are the least?

Gershman. For television, MIPCOM comes first. We go to MIP-TV out of habit and the AFM is a crossover market viable for television. The Screenings for me are almost irrelevant because they don’t come to see movies.
Morris. MIPCOM, MIP-TV and NATPE in that order.
R. Leda. The L.A. Screenings and NATPE.
Marrinan. MIPCOM followed by MIP-TV and the AFM, [which are] equally important.
P. Leda. For sales, the L.A. Screenings are very important with NATPE second. The AFM, MIP-TV and MIPCOM are equally important for acquisitions.
Massaro. For television, MIPCOM and MIP-TV. For cinema, MIFED and the AFM.

VideoAge. At the markets, are seminars important or a problem?

Gershman. If they’re worthwhile, they’re OK, but there are too many. They take people away from the purpose of the market.
Morris. They can be problematic. The same executives on the panels say the same things at all the markets. We need fewer and more focused seminars.
R. Leda. Our clients do not attend seminars, so they don’t take away anything from us.
Marrinan. It would be better to have the seminars at the front-end or at the back end. Seminars have a slight impact, but can pull buyers away.
P. Leda. Our clients don’t attend seminars, however there should be fewer seminars, and more interesting ones.
Massaro. Seminars are very interesting, but it’s better to have them at the end, so as not to hinder the traffic flow on the floor.

VideoAge. Let’s examine hotel suite vs. exhibition floor stands.

Gershman. Where there is an option, I’d prefer the hotel. It’s easier than the floor. There is more equality between the smaller and the larger companies. Plus, it’s less expensive.
Morris. Hotel suites are more cost effective. It was good for the independents. They didn’t have to compete with the studios that had 20,000 square foot booths when they had a 10 by 10 cubicles. It was a great equalizer that provided a level playing field.
Marrinan. The NATPE situation was a disgrace with the Venetian and the [Las Vegas Hilton Convention Center] floor. However, the sellers on the floor were happy because the meetings were good and the business was better than expected. But they did not have a lot of passing traffic. The fact that they were separated was terrible. People had to travel between two or more venues. To be effective it should be one or the other.
P. Leda. Depends on what you’re looking for. For us, 95 percent of the meetings are scheduled beforehand, so we’re happy to be in the hotel, which is better for meetings, but the floor improves traffic. At the recent NATPE, for us it was fantastic that the majors decided to take suites at the Venetian because it let us save a lot of money, be more comfortable and have more time to talk with our clients. When we were in the big exhibition hall people were looking at their watches because they had a meeting a mile away in 10 minutes. But here, they could say “I’ll be at the Venetian Hotel on Monday and on Tuesday I’ll be at the convention hall,” so the date that they dedicated to the Venetian was great because people had more time for us.
Massaro. Hotels are not ideal, plus they are not less expensive than the floor. At the Cannes Film Festival our companies are leaving the hotels to go at the convention floor.

VideoAge. What are the key elements for a successful market?

Gershman. Buyers.
Morris. Advertising and publicity.
Marrinan. A good economy.
P. Leda. Buyers.
Massaro. Buyers.

Coordinated by Valerie Milano, photos by Kathy Tracy.

Editor’s comment

The six executives at the aforementioned round table have basically pointed out that:

  1. Markets are still important.

  2. Market dates are not perfect, but livable.

  3. Trade shows are not as cost-effective as they were in the past.

  4. MIPCOM is the most important market, but NATPE still holds its place.

  5. Seminars should be more interesting and should not interfere with buying and selling activities.

  6. For now, the hotel environment better suits the needs of the distributors.

I’d like to add an analysis to these findings:
In the 80s, when market conditions were tough, international markets were very important. During the prosperous 90s, companies began “taking orders” rather than selling, and money was flowing like a river. That is when the industry began to question the validity of the markets. “Why spend the money on something unnecessary?” was the mantra then. Now that business is tough again, the importance of trade shows is growing, but the mantra still echoes because companies need to cut costs.

The argument that it’s better to invest in personal visits doesn’t completely hold true because nowadays buyers’ time is increasingly spent on “domestic” matters (and often on the phone “solving problems” during the meetings). Visitors’ cassettes end up in a pile on the buyers’ desks anyway. Plus, if the world’s 300 key sellers visited a buyer at least twice a year in the office, the latter’s schedule would be filled every day of the week, allowing little time for other things.

Markets allow buyers a break from the absorbing office politics and routines, thus offering more quality-time with sellers, even if only in quarter-hour bursts. In addition, the increased level of bureaucracy and executive musical chairs makes it difficult to keep track of decision makers’ new roles. According to one Canadian distributor, close to 80 percent of today’s sales team’s time is spent searching for the names of ever-changing buyers. Markets, on the other hand, allow buyers to introduce themselves to the sellers which can expand their client base.

Markets are also helpful in creating the kind of enthusiasm needed in this business, which, after all, is called “show” business. One shouldn’t be downplayed at the expense of the other. If we in the industry cannot generate excitement, how can we expect the public to get enthusiastic about the programs?

But all is not rosy. Trade shows have to face and adapt to the new realities and offer more in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. In this respect, markets have to move away from “number games,” selling “real estate” and the promotion business.

With the number game one risks crowding the market with non-essential elements that take up people’s time, reduce efficiency and increase costs (more people at the stand means more services needed, etc.).

By focusing on “real estate,” markets risk making the event more costly to the exhibitor, and because in our industry image is everything in our industy, companies would rather not attend a market at all than exhibit with a smaller stand than their competitors. It’s important to remember that even if space cost is relatively low, building, storing and maintaining a large booth is very expensive.

Finally, the role of markets is not to distract by selling exhibitors clustered promotion material, but to bring buyers and sellers together under optimum circumstances. This return to the “core business” has to be emphasized with words and deeds. It means lower costs and less information overload. In this respect, I’d put the seminars (lately a fixture at all major trade shows) in the promotion category because, as pointed out during the round table, most panelists deliver only long-winded promo material for their companies.

Seminars divert people from the sales area, making the market less efficient for the exhibitors. However, having the seminars at the end of the event could prolong the stay of some key buyers, thus making the market more effective. This “trick” could balance the length of a market with the time that most buyers spend at the trade shows. Lengthy markets could make the buyers stay longer, but the cost of attendance increases without guarantees (indeed, five-day markets become three-day stays for some key buyers). Naturally, market organizers benefit from longer stays (from their 10 percent room commissions). Pressuring the hotels to cut rates and service costs, shortening the markets and thus reducing early departures, could represent the new winning formula for any market.

VideoAge invited an executive from one of the largest hotels in Cannes to discuss this point, but at the last minute, he canceled.