Letter From New York, Feb 10, 2012

Or, as it seems to me….

Last week, at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, DC, gathered the glitterati of the non-fiction film business, if the folks who work in this world could be called “glitterati.” It’s mostly a hard working crowd, the folks who produce, program, schedule, develop the hundreds of hours that fill the schedules of any cable network that shows non-fiction programming. The event is called Real Screen.

Across the ballroom where the opening party was held, sponsored by A+E Networks, David McKillop, now SVP of Programming for A+E but who, until recently, was holding the same job for History Channel where he helped resurrect that channel from ratings doldrums with the like of Ice Road Truckers and Ax Men, not to mention Pawn Stars. Success there resulted in his moving to A+E, which had reached a ratings plateau. He is one of my favorite people in the business, a man who became a friend after helping resolve conflicts with a pilot I had worked on back in the days when he was with Discovery Channel.

I went to Real Screen without much of an agenda, not really being there to sell shows but to reconnect with people and work on distribution for Odyssey Networks. I spent Monday in the joyous process of seeing people, reconnecting, spending a few minutes with Steve Burns, who until recently ran programming at Nat Geo, who good naturedly was saying he was surprised anyone was talking to him since he didn’t have a budget anymore. But he needn’t worry; lack of budgets will not decrease his overall popularity; he is at heart a filmmaker and, as such, is well respected. He began his career in the cold and snow, shooting films for National Geographic.

When I first started going to Real Screen lo those many years ago, it was a clubby little world of a few hundred, most of whom knew each other unless they were neophytes to the business and looking for ways to “break in.” It’s different now, 2000 or more crowded the hotel. No one could get into the lobby without a pass; security was tight. In the old days, the lobby was full of folks who didn’t spring for registration but got the benefits of attendance by playing lounge lizards, taking up a bar stool and waiting for the world to come to them – and it did. No more. My friend Gail Gleeson and I had to meet across the street for a simple hello. Acadiana, a southern themed restaurant close by, found itself the recipient of extra business, I’m sure.

The cable business is in full bloom. The panels underscored the health of the present by focusing exclusively on that with no forward facing discussions about digital and its impact. The present is too rich, too full right now to worry much about a pending future even though that future is out there and coming on full steam.

That the present is full and rich and seen as getting richer was evidenced by the number of agents who attended. They were there from all major players; twenty-five from CAA alone! They gave extravagant parties, courting the cable players as they would court Hollywood. Let the good times roll.

Many of the young “Turks” making digital video successful would fall into the non-fiction category but there seemed no room in the tent of Real Screen for them – or at least not much room. Hence, the very nascent International Academy of Web Television that had its first awards show at the CES. Prediction: it or someone very like it will soon begin to have a conference like this but focused solely on those who are doing web TV, of which there are many and it’s a number that is growing.

Personally, it was rich, professionally helpful but ultimately, because I am now more of a new media person than an old media person, left me wanting something more, some workshops about the differences between producing for the web and for television – or are there any? But that’s not where Real Screen is now and may be never will be but that doesn’t change that the future is changing and we’re living in a more multi-platform world than ever before.

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