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NAB Show 2012 - Day 1

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Of markets, recognition and regulation

Having successfully launched the 2012 NAB Show with a content call to arms earlier today, delegates were then offered a plethora of sessions, events and networking activities in which to hone their skills and plan strategies to ensure their survival in the evolving marketplace for another year.

An important way of keeping the wolf from the door for content producers is to have their programs sold internationally. To respond to that interest, one of the Content Theater’s early sessions drew a large audience to its International Distribution of Movies and Television session. Ably moderated by Variety’s Ted Johnson, the four panelists provided anecdotal experiences and clips to describe their various approaches to selling North American shows elsewhere. Those expecting more nuts and bolts of the wheeling and dealing headed to the exits early on, the remainder likely picked up a few more tips than just the hardly surprising statement that action films are still the most popular with non-U.S. audiences.

Dan March from Echo Bridge Entertainment spoke about the special challenge of positioning the hugely popular, Canadian-made DeGrassi series in countries that do not have a prime time slot for teens: MTV to the rescue! The edgy new drama, Los Angeles Complex (a series based on the hopes of LA newcomers chasing their dreams, aimed at the 18-34 demographic), failed to resonate in one large market because “behind the scenes in Hollywood doesn’t work in Germany.”

Just five years into the job at Starz Media, EVP Worldwide Distribution Gene George allowed that making a sanitized version of the blood bursting, frequently “undressed” Spartacus has led to great success overseas. The film noir tenor and tone of the recently released Magic City series (set in Miami’s south bank in 1959) might be a winner globally even with its delectably cheesy score.

Steve Saltman—CEO, Image Entertainment—aims for niche productions, not wanting to compete with the more regular fare from mega-Hollywood. Stand-up comedy and films are his bestsellers. The latest entry is Dysfunctional Friends where a quintet of former buddies are thrown into each other’s space (if any of them leaves, the deal is off) in order to cash in on the serious coin one of their number left them after making an early departure from the planet. Appealing to the black market (and their admirers) takes on new meaning: think Montana Sky in a hurry.

Finally, EVP Valerie Cabrera provided a sizzle reel for Entertainment One to demonstrate her company’s wide-ranging interests, notably Walking Dead and Hell on Wheels, both of which “have done very well for us.”

Those producers at the session wanting to get their productions seen offshore learned little about the actual mechanics, but with so many networking opportunities ahead, the best approach would be to set up a one-on-one with the company that seems to fit their genre best.

Immediately following the distribution panel was the NAB Television Luncheon where two of the association’s highest awards were to be given.

But before the honours were presented, Marci Burdick, NAB’s Senior VP—electronic division set the political table with a few pointed remarks concerning the hot potato issues of spectrum re-allocation, retransmission consent (a second revenue stream for broadcasters if other Internet, cable and satellite carriers buy their content) and the thorny requirement from the Federal Communication Commission that broadcasters put their files—particularly concerning political ad buys—on-line for everyone to see. Two hours later, the FCC would weigh all of those items from its point of view (see below).

Andrew Alexander accepted the NAB Spirit of Broadcasting Award on behalf of the hundreds of comics who got their start thanks to The Second City. With storefronts in Chicago and Toronto, this funny little company that grew brings new meaning to the expression “laughing all the way to the bank” (it’s now a $50 million operation). Momentarily pre-empted by the highlight reel to follow (reminding everyone of the daily perils of “live” TV), the parade of alumni for those men and women who delivered “comedy that always plays to the top of its intelligence” brought back a flood of memories (happy on stage; not so much for those whose success led to their too-early exit).

What else could follow, then, than marking Garry Marshall’s incredible contribution to television and film with his induction into the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame? The appreciative audience was rewarded with a monologue that managed to tickle the funny bone (Marshall’s recollection of Robin Williams’ first day on Mork and Mindy), state an unfortunate truth around the notion of stardom and ego (“I like to get them on their way up and before rehab”) and reinforce the current conundrum facing many broadcasters: “You have to change, just like me.”

Let’s hope those considering change are also blessed with Marshall’s uncanny instinct of knowing just what will be the next hilarious thing.

Not long after the luncheon (featuring a menu that would make The Fonz salivate) FCC Chairman (since June 2009), Julius Genachowski delivered a set speech that was curiously similar to Jean Chrétien’s style of “smile, be happy.” He reminded the assemblage that revenues were up and that if the U.S. government hadn’t bailed out the auto sector, red ink would likely still flow steadily from their balance sheets. On the issues raised by Burdick, Genachowski seemed unconcerned, noting that the strongest objections came from broadcasters who were not under the NAB tent.

Having heard NAB CEO Gordon Smith quote Charles Dickens earlier (“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”) in his State of the Association comments, another quote, this time from Dickens’ contemporary, Lewis Carroll, came to mind as Genachowski walked purposely from the stage, obviously intent on affording no time for Q&A: “curiouser and curiouser.” JWR

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Newsmaker - Garry Marshall
Keynote Speaker - Julius Genachowski
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