My Two Cents

By Dom Serafini

Several interesting facts emerged out of two seminars that I moderated during the first Venice International Television Festival in March.

First, Europe cannot establish a "star system" to compete with Hollywood. Second, many broadcasters there are philosophically opposed to promotion. Third, European dramas are not even appreciated in Europe. Fourth, coproductions with U.K. companies are very difficult and, finally, the U.S. market is a tough nut to crack even for Americans, and relationships are key to making sales there.

Now to me, these are amazingly revolutionary statements especially if one considers that they were made by TV executives from Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Sweden. Curiously, all five conclusions that I took as fact, at first may seem disconnected from each other, but, at closer inspection, reveal themselves to be related - part of one big predicament: European aversion to promotion, branding and marketing.

Take, for example, the problem of establishing European stars that can connect with audiences throughout the region. Many actors don't speak English (which is the recognized transborder language) and broadcasters do not promote foreign stars even when airing coproductions. Under more logical circumstances, the program producers would fill the vacuum with their own initiatives; unfortunately, promotion is not the interest or forté of European producers and thus it is totally ignored.

This aspect of the industry takes us to the second problem, which is Europe's aversion to promotion. The reasons or justifications given are varied: promotion requires money, but it remains a philosophical European impediment peculiar only to this industry. Indeed, European car manufacturing, fashion and food industries are all good promoters.

The lack of promotion for European audiovisual product also leads us to the third problem: the fact that European dramas are not appreciated in Europe. To me this has nothing to do with quality, but only with promotional creativity and enthusiasm.

If European producers, distributors or broadcasters cannot generate some excitement among themselves with their own product, how can one expect others to be enthusiastic?

Promotion requires true creativity and it is not just a matter of money. Promotion is part of show business. It is not clear whether Europeans tend to lean towards the show or the business, but maintaining a balance is essential in this industry.

The other two problems have to do with difficult markets such as in the U.K. and the U.S. In these countries, relationship is the first rule; the bottom line is the second. In order to be fair to all relationships, American TV executives have developed a system whereby all producers have to "pitch" their shows. In other words, they have to excite the execs. So, there, the circle is closed and it is guaranteed that we'll go back to square one at the next European conference.

Dom Serafini