Studios cutting into buyers’ quality time with indies
It is well known that the L.A. Screenings are large revenue sources for all of the major U.S. studios, mini-majors and big Latin TV groups, while for some of the indies the Screenings are valuable mainly for cultivating relationships with buyers.
In terms of financial burden, for the major indie sales companies, the cost of attending the L.A. Screenings for four days is escalating, averaging $65,000 each for larger ones such as Televisa, Telemundo, Caracol, Cisneros (for the latter two, this includes their screenings plus reception and/or party), and somewhat less for Telefilms and Azteca/Comarex.
It is estimated that, for the 69 indie exhibitors alone, the L.A. Screenings represent a total expenditure of $600,000 at the Century Plaza Hotel. If we add lodging and food for the 250 LATAM program buyers to these expenditures, the portion of the indie market that caters to Latin America is a $900,000 expenditure. This is considering that some buyers take advantage of the studios’ reduced hotel rates (buyers benefit from the lower rates and the studios accumulate hotel nights to get lower rates for their own out-of-town staff and guests).
For the studio screenings portion of the market, buyer expenditures for lodging and food are estimated at $1.8 million and involve over 1,700 acquisition executives.
To the five major studios, the L.A. Screenings represent a cost of $5 million (without a general party). The industry’s average cost is $125,000 per day (including internal accounting). Parties, like the ones held at Disney and at Fox, add another $1 million each to the tally. Then, for mini-majors such as Lionsgate, costs could reach as much as $250,000, including its party at the House of Blues in West Hollywood. But it was much less expensive for Fox International Channels (FIC), which held a party in the penthouse of the London Hotel, also in West Hollywood.
Hovering around the L.A. Screenings there is also a “gray” market that’s not as obvious but nevertheless takes place in companies’ offices, hotel lobbies and private homes, which could add an additional $50,000 to the expenditures, bringing the grand total expenditure for the 10-day event to more than $10 million. And it generates an indirect and induced impact of some $30 million. Not bad for an organic event that doesn’t even claim an organizer or a founder.
As usual, for the indies the L.A. Screenings started with an opening party hosted by Cisneros Media Distribution on May 13, a day after the market actually started for the indies.
After the Cisneros general party, Telefilms hosted its traditional screenings/cocktail for LATAM buyers.
And on May 14, Azteca organized a press conference in its Century Plaza suite to announce a co-production with Endemol Shine Latino for Master Chef.
The traditional Century Plaza Hotel housed 76 distribution companies, including the LATAM divisions of the major U.S. studios (Fox’s LATAM sales division used the nearby InterContinental Hotel instead, where VideoAge kept its information desk).
However, some of the indies reported that on Tuesday, May 12 very few buyers were in attendance; a fact anticipated by VideoAge on its L.A. Screenings website one month earlier, which indicated Tuesday as the set-up day.
The market’s indie portion ended with another bash, this time hosted by Caracol on May 14, the day before Fox started the studio portion of the market with its LATAM screenings for 172 Latin buyers. Some studios, including Disney, screen for the Latin pan-regionals separately from the general LATAM screenings.
By Saturday, May 16, only 10 indie exhibitors’ suites at the Century Plaza were still open, while the studios’ suites began to fill up with people. The relatively large number of indies still holding meetings was attributed to the fact that HBO had canceled its screenings.
In terms of new product, at these Screenings, cable saved the day for the studios since broadcasters ordered fewer new series compared to last year: 48 this year versus 58 last year. However, cable and digital orders added 28 shows to the studios’ international distribution pipes with a good portion of them part of the supernatural-superhero genre now prevalent in movie theaters.
There were also four South Korean companies that appeared for one day on the 18th floor of the Century Plaza, organized a luncheon screening (apparently without telling anyone, except for a poster by the escalator leading to the dining room) and disappeared.
The official studio screenings were kicked off with the traditional Disney party (called the International Upfront) on the studio lot on Sunday, May 17, even though Fox started screening on Friday, May 15, followed by the other studios. Similarly, the Screenings came to a close with the Fox party on Thursday, May 21, even though a few studios were still screening the following day. On Wednesday, CBSSI toasted — with some 100 invited guests — Joe Lucas’s retirement after a 43-year career with Paramount first and, later, CBS.
For next year, Fox has already announced that its screenings will start a day earlier — instead of its traditional Friday — on a Thursday, further eroding the indies’ exhibition time and possibly forcing them to open their suites at the Century Plaza Hotel a day earlier, thus increasing the length of the L.A. Screenings for some Latin and other buyers. DS