June/July 2012
Volume 32 No. 4

May 2012
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L.A. Screenings: Nets Showy, Studios Content, Buyers Exhausted But Ecstatic

By Dom Serafini

It seems that all three international TV industry events centered around the L.A. Screenings — the Upfronts, the indie screenings and the studio screenings — left most people involved happy.

Hollywood signAt the Upfronts in New York City, which opened the bazaars, the five major U.S. TV broadcast networks were satisfied with the over $9 billion in ad revenue they secured for the 2012-13 season for the pre-sale of some 80 percent of their ad inventory.

The networks also showed off something they’ve been longing for. For some years now, U.S. TV stations have wanted to make viewers laugh with comedies instead of cry with dramas — specifically since 1997 when NBC had 18 comedies on its schedule, and ABC and CBS had 12 each. For the 2012-13 season, the nets picked up 22 comedies. NBC now has seven new comedies.

For the U.S. TV stations, comedies are less risky than one-hour dramas, because if a sitcom fails it affects only a half hour of the schedule. Plus, comedies are cheaper to produce. However, having too many comedies scheduled back-to-back is considered risky.

As for the age-old question of whether the Upfronts model is still current, Jack Myers, media economist and publisher of the Jack Myers Media Business Report, said, “10 years ago everyone was calling for the elimination of the Upfronts, but we see signs of them getting stronger, not weaker, and the proof is in the ‘Newfronts.’ In the last few weeks, we’ve seen the online video ‘Newfronts,’ and every cable network has held their Upfronts. There have been nearly 100 between February and May,” he explained.

While Myers expected that some of the broadcast nets’ Upfront money went to online video instead, that’s a good thing for the broadcast nets, too. “A lot of the money that’s shifting to the online marketplace is shifting to the network’s own video assets — like ABC.com, CBS’s TV.com and Hulu. About 50 percent of the money spent on online video will go to the broadcast and cable networks, and the lion’s share of that goes to broadcast,” he said.

At the L.A. Screenings — the event that follows the Upfronts and takes place in and around Hollywood — the studios (which produced and/or are distributing 44 of 50 new series) were largely content with the buyers’ reactions to the pilots and specials screened. International buyers, in turn, were happy with the still large number of dramas, since sitcoms usually don’t travel well, even though some acquisition execs showed interest in Sony Pictures’s new comedy Men at Work, and Lionsgate’s new comedy Anger Management, starring Charlie Sheen.
According to Myers, “They’ve spent $3 billion in program development this year, and the broadcast networks remain the engine that leads the video train.” It’s no wonder, then, that with that kind of money thrown at them, the studios are content.

Around 1,500 buyers from 66 countries attended the Screenings, basically the same number as last year. However, while all international TV outlets were present, the traditional ones sent fewer executives, while the number of IPTV buyers, such as Netflix and Hulu, increased. Some distributors make a distinction between IPTV and digital rights, with the latter considered the sub-channel of broadcast TV.

Among the buyers, some buzzed about shows were: Chicago Fire (NBCUni for NBC), about life in a fire department; The Following (WB for FOX midseason), starring Kevin Bacon; Nashville (Lionsgate for ABC), dealing with politics and music; The New Normal (Twentieth Century Fox for NBC), a comedy about a gay couple and their surrogate; Last Resort (Sony Pictures for ABC), about a U.S. submarine with nuclear capability that fights the bad guys within the U.S. government (the pilot reportedly cost $14 million); and The Mob Doctor (Sony for FOX), about a surgeon who’s blackmailed by the Mafia.

Some buyers also liked Vegas (CBS Studios International for CBS), a Western set in 1960s Las Vegas. Other popular CBSSI shows include: Emily Owens, M.D. (CW), a hospital drama with Mamie Gummer, daughter of Meryl Streep; Elementary (CBS), a modern take on Sherlock Holmes; and Beauty and the Beast (CW), a police version of the fairy tale. Buzzed about shows from Disney Media Distribution include Red Widow (ABC), about the widow of a criminal who inherits a crime syndicate; Zero Hour (ABC), a conspiracy thriller; and Mistresses (ABC), about four women and their love affairs.

This year, Sony Pictures offered buyers warm-up blankets during its screening, possibly in response to VideoAge Daily’s story at NATPE 2012 (“How to Dress for the L.A. Screenings”) in which buyers were quoted jokingly complaining about the very cold screening rooms.

In the 45 years that the L.A. Screenings have been held, a third event focusing on Latin American buyers has developed around the Screenings and become a lucrative business for the independents.

Eighty companies exhibited at this year’s L.A. Screenings, setting up shop in the suites of the Century Plaza Hotel in the Century City area of Los Angeles, the largest turnout in recent years (last year saw 74 companies screen).

The indie portion started May 15 (while the studios began screening on the 18) and featured three evening parties hosted by Venevision, which, traditionally, opened the market; Caracol, which premiered its Pablo Escobar, The Evil Boss series; and Telefilms, with a sit-down dinner after the screening of its new movie catalog.

After a slow start, the traffic in the corridors picked up on day two and many distributors reported good business, which kept up until May 18, when all indie exhibitors made way for the studios.

On May 18 Mexico’s TV Azteca hosted a bash to honor Marcel Vinay, Sr.’s 45 years in the TV industry. All of the top-level executives of Latin America’s TV networks, including competitors such as Televisa, attended the party.

Earlier, on May 16, Viacom’s Nickelodeon Latin America organized a press conference for its 11-11 En Mi Cuadra Nada Cuadra, a co-production with Miami-based Somos. Viacom also announced an exclusive five-year volume distribution deal with Televisa.

Since the indies begin screening earlier than the studios, many Latin buyers stay in L.A. for over 10 days, compared to five for those from other countries. Canadians arrived on May 14 for the five-day series shopping spree, while the rest of the world arrived Sunday, May 20, for a Monday start.

Now for the news circulating around the corridors of the Century Plaza Hotel and the studios’ screening rooms: one piece of news follows Argentina’s recently imposed restrictions on the purchase of U.S. dollars. According to some broadcasters familiar with the issue, after a complete freeze on U.S. dollars transferred out of the country, the government will develop a priority list to facilitate program importers and other international TV companies. In any case, each transaction will have to be approved by the AFIP, the country’s national tax agency.

In Mexico, TV Azteca’s networks were dropped by the country’s cable-TV systems serving a combined 4.4 million viewers over some retransmission fees. Megacable, Mexico’s largest MSO with 1.9 million subs, dropped the channel first, followed by Cablemas and TVI, with a total of 1.4 million subs (both controlled by Televisa), and Telecable, which together with Cablecom serves 1.1 million homes. Mexico’s antitrust commission is now looking into the matter.