It’s all about buyers. They’re the reason distributors sign away their firstborn for the best booth space, the reason trade mags have fat issues, and the reason the whole market realm exists. While there have been rumblings among the sales citizenry that Monte-Carlo, the little guy on the market circuit, is on a slippery slope, the buyers still say they like it.
‘The exhibitors tend to have a good track record,’ says Richard Pembroke, head of programs for The Sci-Fi Channel in the u.k. and a three-time attendee.
‘There are a smaller number of players,’ says Michel Rodrigue, the Montreal-based president of Distr’Action, a buyer of formats for Quebec producers, ‘but they are our kind of people. It’s quality versus quantity.’
Rodrigue is one of approximately 400 buyers who’ll attend the 20th annual market (February 19-26). With an annual schedule that includes natpe, Montreux, miptv and mipcom, Rodrigue admits Monte-Carlo isn’t the most influential of the bunch, but scores high in terms of quality of meetings, primarily because there’s more time.
Ann Julienne, head of acquisitions and international coproductions at La Cinquième in Paris, agrees. ‘It’s smaller and easier to get around. And you can screen full programs. At mip and natpe, you can maybe see ten or 15 minutes, but you can’t always get a good enough sense of the program in that time. The noise there is also a factor.’
Julienne, who’s been at the market at least ten times, is chiefly interested in sourcing science and nature documentary programming, despite the fact that Monte-Carlo has come to be known as a venue for drama and formats. She’ll also be hunting for coproduction possibilities.
While the last three years at the market have been particularly good for her, Julienne, like some other non-fiction buyers, remarked that the less-is-more advantage comes after a bumpy few years for Monte Carlo. ‘It’s certainly a market that changed a lot. The year of the Gulf War, it became a much smaller market.’
Jenni Harrington, head of programming at Flextech’s gameshow service Challenge TV and buyer for other Flextech services like Bravo, UK Living, youth-oriented service tcc and teen channel Trouble, also took notice. ‘A lot of the majors were dropping out, perhaps because it was so quiet and, for exhibitors, it was quite expensive.’
Even in the face of what the market is calling a resurrection, Harrington says the participant mix has definitely changed, but not for the worse as far as she’s concerned. ‘Very few who go to Monte-Carlo also go to natpe. But that’s a benefit. You can see people you wouldn’t otherwise see and there’s more time to talk to them.’
Says Rodrigue: ‘You can find out about programs you wouldn’t even get to see at larger markets. You can find the little jewel you’ve been looking for.’
And he speaks from experience. In 1993, he stumbled upon a program, originally produced in Holland, called Taxi. This program, a collection of real encounters in taxis captured on hidden, lipstick-sized cameras, was a smash. It sold to distributors in 12 countries including to Rodrigue’s company in Canada. The best-known version in North America was hbo’s Taxicab Confessions.
Jenni Harrington says she usually initiates contact and starts negotiations at Monte-Carlo. ‘The timing is good because you can follow up initial contacts at mip.’
While Angela Taylor, head of acquisitions at Travel in the u.k., has only been to the market once (her predecessor was a regular attendee), the timing works well for her too. ‘We’re still able to spend,’ she says. ‘By then we’re generally three-quarters of the way through our budget, but we’re still spending for the tail-end of the year.’
Taylor, who generally prefers to buy series over one-offs, has holiday-oriented programming on her wish list. ‘We interpret the travel brief quite broadly, including food and wine, adventure, but my focus now is product that’s more oriented towards holidays and holiday planning.’
Swedish broadcaster TV4 acquisition exec Maria Viberg likes where Monte-Carlo falls on her calendar: it’s not only the first European festival of the year, it’s the first she attends. ‘It’s early in the year, which is good, because I don’t go to natpe.’ Viberg has attended the market ‘many times,’ including five years as a buyer for TV4.
Viberg is returning this year in part as a result of the terrific success of programs she bought there last year. The Scott O’Grady Story, a bbc/Discovery coproduction distributed by Mayfair Television, re-constructs the story of how the American pilot survived after crashing in the former Yugoslavia: ‘It was fascinating and did very well for us.’ Another strong performer was The Human Race, by Australia’s Beyond Adventure, about three men racing each other across Australia on foot.
This year, Viberg is looking for docs to program in the spring. She’s pleased by a new feature added to the market – a video library of current products and private rooms for solo screenings. Says Viberg: ‘I can screen right through without the pressure of people around.’
While factual programming is not the core of his service, Pembroke of Sci-Fi will be scouring this market for formats which can be implemented to serve the channel’s unique needs. ‘I’m keen to find factual yet entertaining formats, preferably half-hours for early evening. I’d like to find quiz-type programs or lighter documentaries on topics like ufos and the paranormal.’ What he’d really like is a ‘chat show’ on science fiction topics, ‘but, as you can imagine, it’s difficult to find.’
While Pembroke only buys for Europe (usually series over one-offs), he does make suggestions to his American and Latin American counterparts on pre-buys if something catches his eye. ‘Then we can combine our efforts.’