May 2015
Volume 35 No. 4

May 2015
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L.A. Screenings Wish List: What Would Buyers Change?

By Dom Serafini

Over the course of their 53-year history, the L.A. Screenings, possibly the world’s only organic trade show, has gone through several phases and a number of changes. Now that it has reached its Nirvana, VideoAge is wondering what buyers would like to change and/or improve.

It should be noted that up until the year 2000, the L.A. Screenings were buyer-driven — buyers were the ones who dictated the schedules and dates, which lasted over four weeks. After that, the U.S. studios took charge and implemented a new order: shorter dates and more intensive screenings. In those days, buyers preferred to watch new series on a small screen to recreate the viewers’ experience. Nowadays, all studios show their pilots on a theater-sized screen to reflect the cinematic efforts content creators place on the series.

In 1983 VideoAge introduced the name L.A. Screenings. Before that, the event was known by the undescriptive moniker “May Screenings,” which didn’t really make any sense because, historically, the Screenings were held as early as February, then March, April, May and as late as June 27. In 2012 VideoAge made the Screenings a bit less freezing by suggesting that the studios provide blankets for buyers in the sub-freezing screenings rooms, and in 2013 VideoAge documented the L.A. Screenings’ fascinating history.

Years ago, studios screened series for individual buyers from big companies only. Nowadays, individual screenings are done only for Canadians and pan-regional Latin American groups, while the rest of the Latin buyers have general screenings and European, pan-Pacific and other buyers are mixed over the course of six days, ending before Memorial Day weekend. There was a time when the Screenings paused for the holiday (with backyard barbecues at sellers’ homes or football — a.k.a. soccer — matches between buyers and sellers taking place in Beverly Hills) and resumed afterwards.

Five years ago, studios started to screen in some local markets for those buyers who couldn’t make the L.A. Screenings. In the past 10 years or so, the total number of international buyers attending the L.A. Screenings has remained stable; however, most individual companies are sending fewer buyers with the balance filled by new entrants like digital TV outlets — especially from Telcos and Internet companies such as Telus (Canada), Orange (France), SK Telecom (South Korea), BT Vision (U.K.), Terra (Brazil), Youku (China) and from the U.S. Netflix, Hulu and Google, among others.

Localized screenings also helped the studios make the L.A. Screenings more manageable by controlling its expansion, considering that the event went from 450 program buyers in 1994 to 1,500 (with peaks of 1,600) buyers in recent years with many of them top-level, big-spender executives who need lots of attention. Plus, since output deals in Europe are not as popular as they’ve been in the past and studios have to sell market-by-market, the local screenings help considerably to place product at individual TV outlets.

Studio screenings start after the U.S. networks have made their pilot selections public at the Upfronts in New York City (except for Canadian buyers, who watch all the pilots because they have to return to Canada and make their own Upfront presentations to their advertising community). Over the years, Canadians at the Screenings have become very secretive, with one network even demanding that the studios screen in the top-floor suite they rent at the Four Seasons Hotel.

At the general screenings, some studios show all the pilots, with three breaks (mid-morning, lunch and mid-afternoon) if they have a large number of pick-ups; other studios add background material, like interviews with producers and screenwriters and some just screen a few complete pilots and promo reels for the rest, since full pilots are available to buyers on the studios’ websites.

One of the advantages of the L.A. Screenings is that, although it’s an organic event (i.e., without a central organizer) the market has nicely evolved in accordance with both buyers’ and sellers’ needs and the changing environment. Buyers’ input is appreciated and suggestions are followed, whether they come via one-on-one meetings or through the press. Lately, some studios have been monitoring buyers’ satisfaction with the presentations, and VideoAge is ready with a report after having polled over 50 buyers from Europe, Asia and Latin America.

In this respect, the answers are divided into two camps, with the Europeans favoring screening all episodes in their entirety, while both Asian and Latin buyers are generally happy to watch promo reels.

Commented Dermot Horan of Ireland RTE, “I really like watching all the pilots, comedies and dramas. It is very hard to judge a show [based] on a promo. At the end of the day, it wouldn’t be the L.A. Screenings if we didn’t screen [all] the pilots. And, as we Europeans are eight [and nine] hours behind our offices, we generally get to view without interruption or the need to call the office.”

Added Zelda Stewart of Italy’s Mediaset, who also prefers to screen all of the pilots, “It would be great if all studios could put full episode screeners online the week following the screenings, as Fox and CBS already do.” [Editor’s note: Disney LATAM does as well.]

Benedicte Steinsrud of Norway’s SBS Discovery and Bernard Majani of France’s M6 also prefer to watch all full episodes, as does Patricia Daujotas, head of Programming for Saeta TV in Uruguay.

On the other hand, to Lanny Huang of Hong Kong’s Promo Group TV, it’s better to “watch promo reels before each program [since] they set the premise and expectations of the coming program’s screening. [Then] I prefer to watch one full drama, but not a full comedy. Actually, many buyers walk out or take a break with comedies. But I’m OK with promos for comedies.”
Similarly, Pedro Lascurain of Mexico’s Azteca said, “If the one-hour series promises to last at least two seasons, then I want to see the whole episode. For all the rest I’d rather watch a 10-minute promo.” And Jorge Garro of Costa Rica’s Teletica likes to “watch one full comedy and one full drama and the rest just promo reels.”

A buyer from Chile who did not want to be named said, “For a drama series it’s best to watch full episodes, but for sitcoms I’d just go with short five-to-seven minute reels,” while for Cida Goncalves from Brazil’s buying agent 8 Star, “promo reels provide a good insight. Full episodes could be provided per request.”

A major LATAM buyer who also did not want to be named explained, “I would prefer to see promo reels for comedies, 15 or 20 minutes of some dramas and one or two full episodes of the highlight drama series. Some of the presentations are too long. In general, it would be better if they could fit [all of the screenings] in the morning.”

The Chilean buyer we polled also prefers mornings; “This way we have time for personal meetings in the afternoons,” he said. The same answer was given by Saeta TV’s Daujotas, and Azteca’s Lascurain was of a similar mind.

Teletica’s Garro, too, prefers the mornings and early afternoons. The mornings are also generally the Europeans’ and Asians favorites. Said Horan, “The mornings are better at the beginning of the market as the jet-lag often kicks in by mid-afternoon.” Added Huang, “Of course [I like to screen] in the morning. In the afternoon, the jet-lag [sets in] and after lunch [buyers] can be very sleepy.”

Then there are the added features — like meeting with the stars and becoming familiar with the creative process by talking or listening to showrunners and/or screenwriters’ general presentations.

To Mediaset’s Stewart it is important to know the creative process behind each new series: “Meeting Peter Roth at Warner Bros. and Disney’s producers over the years has given us a true insight into this process,” she said.

For Huang of Promo TV, knowing the creative process, “surprisingly helps to make buyers decide which [show] to acquire.” Garro concurred: “I still remember the conversation between the president of NBC and the producer of the Cop series that resulted in Miami Vice.” Steinsrud added, “[It is] always interesting to hear about the creative process, but much better done in conversation than as a presentation.”

To Horan, “hearing from the producers, the writers and the show-runners is really useful. Pilots tell you much about a show, but not necessarily where the story is going.” But France’s Majani opined, “It should be limited to the series that you like.”

Conversely, a buyer from LATAM commented: “It’s not important to know the creative process behind the series. That time could be used to screen more product in less time.” The buyer from Chile concurred and Daujotas added, “I do not find any interest in producers talking about the shows.” Mexico’s Lascurain explained: “Unfortunately, [not too many buyers] really care what was the process they went through.” And Brazil’s Goncalves summed it up, saying “Usually, time is quite limited.”

Invariably, though, all the buyers interviewed like to mingle with the stars and enjoy breakfasts and luncheons. “I never say no to a meal,” concluded Steinsrud.