Nearly a quarter century ago, there existed the era of television industry trade shows. The major studios and a few brave independents took to the convention floors, promoting and selling their programming to emerging media outlets with niche viewers in emerging worldwide marketplaces. Twenty-four years, four companies, and four passports ago, I began my career in this era, selling programming to a myriad of network and cable screeners in an endless array of viewings. In a whirlwind of worldwide visits, I dragged with me two-inch quad band tapes and 3/4 inch u-matic cassettes. Those were the days long before the convenience of compact disk and dvd format, and even longer before gps cell phones, email, and video conferencing. Those days of program selling were done by telex, telefax, and hard-wired long distance telephone service. And my IBM Selectric keys pounded out written contracts, with the help of self-correcting tape.
In the 1980s, cable TV began to peek its head over the network horizon. To producers, it was a new and scary world. To consumers, it was a world of expense. ‘Emerging’ was quite an important word to the world of independents – emerging mediums and their emerging niche markets. By the early ’90s, cable TV and VHS home entertainment gave way to satellite TV and a growing list of indie channels. Continuous new forms of home entertainment began to flow, giving impetus to all new convention markets. Soon independents began to make their way through a large, confusing maze of new buyers on all continents, traveling a never-ending cycle of business trips to MIP, MIPCOM and NATPE. MIP Asia, DISCOP and TV Monte Carlo were soon added, followed later by London Screenings, causing producers to work feverishly in post-production to complete programming for the newer, emerging TV windows to the world.
It was an exciting time for independents, who looked to fill all the wants and needs of newfound niche viewers, with plenty of available screen time to do so. The fast flow of currency-traded dollars began purchasing vast quantities of independent programming, the likes of which major studios were not producing for niche outlets. I thought this new business era would prove a bottomless pit of hungry buyers who would continue to feed their newfound audiences with strong independent programming.
I was wrong.
What happened in the new millennium? Well, 24 years, four companies, and four passports later in my career, the playing field leveled. Studios began to co-own many of the newly founded independents, and turned them into franchise outlets for their own programming. This, in turn, caused the indies, once again, to stand brave and tall on the same convention floors – but with one big difference: they were now left to find ways to market programming. They were now forced to promote and sell their programming in an industry bought up in foreign stock by the major studios. The emerging marketplaces and new media outlets previously supported for years by independents had forced studio sellers to compete at lower-than-terrestrial level pricing. Today, the independent producer’s programming is sold in a marketplace where the majors act like independents, filling the niches of the newfound 500 TV-channel universe.