My 2 Cents

We all know how difficult the L.A. Screenings are for the independents. There is no need to go over the details of how the L.A. Screenings work. But, there are a few things that need to be explored.

First, the L.A. Screenings have been going on for 43 years, and they’ve evolved throughout the 23 years that VideoAge has been covering them. Meaning the studios have changed the way their screenings take place and have adapted to the needs of the buyers. Suffice to say that, as recently as 1995, the Screenings were a month-long event, with the Canadians first to arrive and stay for a full week; followed by the Latins, also for a week; then a break for the Memorial Day holiday, and back to the screening rooms for the Far East contingent and some of the Europeans. In 1997, Sweden’s SVT didn’t leave town until June 7.
Today, the whole process takes less than 10 days.

As long as it can be remembered, there were always independent distributors setting up shop at the hotels, near their target markets. For Europeans it was the Westwood Marquis (now W) hotel. For the Latins, the Century Plaza and the Park Hyatt (now the Intercontinental) hotels.

The indies, too, have adapted to the changing times in the sense that now they only exhibit in the latter two hotels. But besides their screenings locale, the indies have done little to improve their odds at getting a bigger share of the more than 1,200 top-level buyers who flock to Los Angeles in May for the Screenings.
By counting the number of independent distributors active at the L.A. Screenings, one realizes that they represent a force of more than 80 companies vs. only six studios and four mini-majors.

Granted, the studios have the star power, the new shows and the fire power (i.e. money); but, if aggregated, the 80-or-so indie distributors could muster just as many news shows as a studio can, if not more.

We know buyers don’t have time to visit individual companies to view one or two new shows. Programmers have to put together their new schedules very fast, and it’s more efficient for them to do the shopping in one place, considering the little time they have in Los Angeles.

On the other hand, if the indies would aggregate their new shows and invite buyers to screen them in one place during a screenings-cocktail combination, I’m sure a good number of buyers would attend.

The problem is that, unfortunately, there isn’t an organization that represents independents and could organize such an event. Therefore, the first thing the indies should do is form an association similar to the New York-based Syndicated Network Television Association (SNTA), which has only five members. For the sake of dialogue, let’s call the new group the Association of Independent Distributors of TV Content (AID-TV).
This would be the industry’s first and only such association.

In addition to aggregating new shows for general screenings, AID-TV could negotiate better stand rates for exhibiting at various trade shows; exchange information on dead-beat clients; organize cocktails, press conferences for individual members and general parties at TV trade shows; and organize conferences of interest to its members, just to mention a few activities.

Looking at the L.A. Screenings’ independent contingent, the founding fathers could encompass as many as 20 companies, with a subsequent membership roster of 50 other international distributors.

This, of course, is the easy part. The most difficult part is to actually make the indies stop complaining and take the bull by the horns. Like anything else, this industry only needs a small group of people who, when faced with a problem, find a solution ––  one that is affordable (after all, if one cannot afford the solution, then it’s not a solution).

Nowadays, technology allows us all to do more things at lower costs. For example, to put together a general independent screening at a hotel during the L.A. Screenings would cost, at the most $10,000 for a 60-minute presentation, where, assuming there were 20 companies, each participating distributor would get a three-minute video time. As we can see, the dollar numbers aren’t big, even if an extra $10,000 is added for a subsequent cocktail for 150 or so people. In effect, for each participating distributor the contribution would amount to $1,000, plus the effort to each invite five buyers. The promotion generated around the event would contribute to getting some other 20 buyers.

The concept isn’t hard to execute, and the math is simple, provided that there is something, like an association, able to coordinate such an event.

Now the inevitable questions: How much would such an association cost? And who’d be running it?
First the easy part. To run it I’d call on one of the many capable and knowledgeable industry veterans who are now retired, but still active in one way or another.

For the budget to run such an association with two people, I’d estimate $250,000 per year, or $12,500 for each of the 20 founding companies; money that these companies would be recouping in cost savings and services.
Let’s think about it, not sleep on it!

Dom Serafini