NATPE, Berlin, Africa Marts Claim Triple Play

By Leah Hochbaum Rosner

We at VideoAge understand that those with spouses must travel sometimes, but the upcoming 2009 market season’s opening salvo is too much, even for vagabonds. Just imagine — a distribution company that sells movies internationally will need to be at three markets on three separate continents, all in the space of 30 days.

First comes NATPE, which will be held January 26-29 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Shortly thereafter is the Berlin International Film Festival, February 5-15 in Germany, followed by the first ever DISCOP Africa, which will take place February 25-27 in Dakar, Senegal. With markets so close together, it’ll be tough for distribution executives to breathe, let alone get home for even a short stretch.

Yet, as incredible as it might sound, many companies will be attending all three markets — but not with the same people. The combinations will vary, but only a few who go to NATPE will travel to Germany, while many more will make the trek to Africa.

Each market has its own niche, with NATPE being primarily a Latin American TV trade show. Berlin is a film market that came into existence due to a decision made by organizers of the Santa Monica, California-based American Film Market (AFM) to move the AFM to November. And the appeal of DISCOP Africa is the opportunity it presents to international distributors who are interested in opening up a new market in a region that is becoming increasingly cash-rich, while lacking a TV tradition. Those companies who get there first will not only reap future benefits, but will also help the region develop an industry in which they will most likely maintain some influence.

With that in mind, VideoAge sought out a who’s who of market participants to find out: 1) whether entertainment companies are planning to attend all three of these one-after-another events, 2) which they’ve chosen to prioritize over others, and, 3) if an overabundance of markets and festivals in one time period seems to be the way of the future.

“It will be a busy time, but with so much [economic] uncertainty these days, every broadcaster knows he or she has to go to a number of markets,” said Bruce Rabinowitz, a New York-based Sales executive for Italy’s RAI Trade, who will be personally attending both NATPE and DISCOP Africa. While he himself won’t make the trip to the Berlin Film Fest, Rabinowitz said that his Rome-based RAI Trade colleagues will attend as always. “[RAI Trade] likes to go to Berlin,” he said

While Rabinowitz revealed that he’s not necessarily looking forward to logging so many frequent flyer miles in one fell swoop, he does acknowledge that he cannot afford to miss out on potential business opportunities in these unstable times. Regarding DISCOP Africa, which is being touted as the first event of its kind dedicated to the development of the television content business in Africa, he said: “I want to check it out. I can’t imagine that any major broadcaster would let DISCOP Africa slide. Every [distributor and] broadcaster has to see the value in getting into the area.”

As for NATPE, “it’s a good opportunity for RAI Trade to reach Latin Americans,” said Rabinowitz. “We have more focused meetings with Latin American buyers at NATPE. That doesn’t happen for us at MIP-TV or MIPCOM. NATPE is calmer and more focused.”

For Almira Malyshev of New York-based Screen Media Ventures, NATPE and the Berlin Film Festival are top priorities, while DISCOP Africa is still being batted around as a possibility. “As long as these markets are reasonably priced and there are buyers there, we’ll be there,” she said. “It’s the only way for us to remain competitive.” Though Malyshev recognized the necessity of seeking out new business in this rather wobbly economic climate, that doesn’t mean she’s all for the constant travel that the entertainment business seems to require these days. “Does it make my life easier as a salesperson? No. But if we find that markets are producing results, then we’ll go,” she said. “Do I expect a lot from NATPE? No. But it’s a chance to meet with buyers, and a chance to exchange information with sellers.”

Despite her misgivings about the Las Vegas event, Malyshev feels that this year’s NATPE will be cost-effective for Screen Media given that instead of having its own booth, the company will be exhibiting under the umbrella of IFTA (Independent Film and Television Alliance), the Los Angeles-based trade association of independent producers and distributors of films and TV, which organizes the annual AFM. Malyshev sits on the IFTA board.  

The Berlin Film Fest has now become a must-attend event for Screen Media. Regardless, there are still a few things Malyshev would change about the German conference were she given the chance. While she’s as yet unsure where she and her colleagues will set up shop, she said that they’d probably have a suite at the Ritz-Carlton as they did last year. “There’s no room on the main floor and the business center didn’t work for us,” she said, hence the hotel venue. “The Ritz-Carlton isn’t perfect, but it’s the best of our options. We’re hoping organizers of the Berlin Film Festival really start taking a good look at the needs of participants.”

Although Malyshev, like RAI Trade’s Rabinowitz, is dreading the winter’s constant travel, she knows it’s well worth it. “There are just so many markets now that it’s hard to spread them out. Anyway, I like market environments because we have the potential to sell to so many people at once. I try to take it one market at a time.”

Luis Daniel Capriles, vp of International Digital Media for Florida-based Telemundo Internacional, will attend NATPE, and colleagues of his will make an appearance at DISCOP Africa, but the company, known for its telenovelas, won’t be at the Berlin Film Fest. “At NATPE, we’ll be meeting up with clients, as well as following up on our MIPCOM meetings in order to discuss strategies for developing video-on-demand platforms across Latin America, Central America and the Caribbean,” said Capriles. Telemundo will focus on bringing new content such as soap Analia to the forefront, as well as furthering the penetration of already-existing content, such as Marina, that has proven to be a success. “The bulk of our meetings will be with Latin Americans,” said Capriles, noting that the Las Vegas market has become a hub for Latins in recent years. But he did mention that he has already set up a handful of meetings with European companies. 

Despite the fact that Capriles himself won’t make the trip out to Africa, a team of Telemundo execs will be there to capitalize on the new event. “In Africa, our strategy is not focused on the digital side yet. It’s more on the [traditional] content side,” he said. “DISCOP Africa is very different from [a well-established] market like MIPCOM. We go all the way when we attend a MIP-TV or a MIPCOM, where we’ll be meeting with clients from every locale, including Latin America, Europe, the U.S. and Africa.”

When asked whether there are simply too many events occurring at nearly the same time this winter, Capriles said: “It’s enough. Any more markets and it would be quite impossible.” 

Farrell Meisel, a TV consultant who travels the world seeing to clients’ needs, concurred, but noted that the downwardly spiraling economy should make most companies less likely to attend so many TV or film conferences. “It does appear that the industry is getting into a cycle of too many markets,” said Meisel, who will go to NATPE, but not DISCOP Africa or the Berlin Film Festival. “In a healthy economic environment, it would be too much. But given the recession, I would find it difficult for CEOs to allow their executives to attend even the salient markets. Not only is there a cost factor, but there is also time lost in the office, which is difficult to make up, especially when companies are downsizing.”

On the other hand, pointed out a U.S. studio executive who wished to remain anonymous, “I would not be meeting many clients just sitting in my office.”

And on that note, let’s not forget that barely 29 days after DISCOP Africa, entertainment industry executives will be back on the road for an earlier-than usual MIP-TV in Cannes. And no one can skip that one.