My Two Cents:
An Ideal Market As Explained By An Idealistic Editor

By Dom Serafini

There are as many opinions on how to run a market as there are participants. But, as an observer, what would I consider an ideal market?

When the industry was flourishing and flush with money to throw around, anything labeled a "market" was good. After all, at a market, any market, there are more buyers to see than seating in the office!

Now that the business environment is being "Bushanized," and the market is becoming more "lean n' mean," trade shows are still useful as a window for a panoramic view of the state of the industry, but participants are becoming more selective and more results-oriented.

Theoretically, one could be spending every single day of the year attending a market or a festival; there are countless industry-related events held around the world. Obviously, this is not possible, but it's no longer even realistic to attend the limited number of markets one did in the recent past. Why? First, new corporate structures and the overall business environment require more time spent with bureaucratic paperwork, meetings and planning. Second, companies are cutting costs at any cost and, third, there are fewer cost-effective markets out there.

This reality check has put enormous pressure on market organizers who have to face the new environment with little room to maneuver and few options. For example, an established market cannot simply change its dates in order to adapt to changing business cycles. Charging less for space is not an attractive tool if potential results are scant. Location is important, but not essential (see MIFED, for example).

But a market can and should evolve. When the industry was segmented into many "windows," it was more effective for a market to be focused: TV rights, home video and theatrical. Now that digital technology is causing these windows to contract, exhibitors need to maximize sales to all windows, a good trade show must therefore now encompass every sector: free TV, DVD, pay TV and ancillary rights. I'd exclude theatrical, because it is a different animal: only A-tiles are viable and product is well known and pre-sold even before it's in post-production and, at times, even while it's still only in script form.

However, even though windows are contracting, all-rights sales are disappearing as a result of changing economics. Nowadays, it is no longer cost effective for territories to invest money for all-rights deals and then resell them individually on a domestic basis. At the same time, a distributor can better maximize its sales if each set of rights is sold individually.

This accordion-like business structure is certainly not good news for market organizers, but nevertheless it must be dealt with.

Ultimately, a market has to satisfy the needs of producers, distributors and buyers, and even though business is the final arbiter of success, it is not the only element needed to satisfy. The psychological factor plays an important role as well. After all, this is show business, and the "show" cannot be removed from the "business" without mangling the essence of the whole stock 'n barrel.

NAB, for example, is not an important market for programmers since it deals with hardware, but it attracts many station owners who, in turn, attract big entertainment CEOs who are magnets for programmers. Hence, an NAB full of programming people.

In order to satisfy the needs of producers, distributors and buyers, the market has three key elements to work with: a forum to exhibit product, conferences and a festival, and at time these can work against each other. The buyer and the producer have to find just one element worthwhile. The distributor is only interested in one element: the buyer, and doesn't appreciate that other elements interfere with the buyers' disposable time. But even the seller could be made to value the non-sales-related elements if these could bring in high-level executives. After all, the attraction for a conference is not for the subject discussed (one could always ask for a transcript or even a tape of the session), but for the quality of the people: "who's going" is the key. Similarly, the festival part of a market could benefit sellers if it attracts high-quality producers who are needed to refurbish the sellers' distribution pipes..

Dom Serafini