Banff fest a coming-of-age story

5:00 AM PST 06/08/2007 by Etan Vlessing, AP

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TORONTO -- Once a sleepy TV festival in the Canadian Rockies, the Banff World Television Festival this coming week could snowball into a busy gathering for international dealmakers.

"These days, everything has to have an Internet and mobile strategy. Every TV concept pitches one," said Robert Montgomery, CEO of the Banff World Television Festival. Mobile content will be front and center in a major new part of the festival dubbed NEXTMedia, Banff's new-media conference, kicking off Friday.

Montgomery also said that more than $43 million in deals were inked last year at the Banff World Television Festival, which will run Sunday-Wednesday. He expects more going into this year's event.

Organizers have been working to turn the gathering into a significant commercial event as well as a forum for discussing the business. Montgomery said European players in particular will be looking to sell the Americans in Banff on TV formats.

"The format business is a very global marketplace where ideas can emanate from anywhere. And Banff is an ideas market that has got on the radar screen of a of important players," he said.

The list of Hollywood heavy hitters bound for Banff includes producers Jenji Kohan ("Weeds"), Chuck Lorre ("Two and a Half Men"), Carol Mendelsohn ("CSI: Crime Scene Investigation") and Rob Thomas ("Veronica Mars").

New NBC co-chairman Ben Silverman, previously slated to attend Banff, will now participate via satellite.

On the new-media front, senior Joost executive Stacey Seltzer will be in Banff to fly the flag for the upstart Web TV player, which is shortly to launch.

Seltzer, who will address the NEXTMedia conference -- set to run Friday-Sunday -- will face an audience divided between new media players that regard Joost co-founders Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom as rock stars, and traditional broadcasters nervous that the upstart Internet-based TV application may eventually eat them for lunch.

"(Joost) is a young service. We're a young company. So we'll be in Banff to educate the market about what we're doing," Seltzer said.

Other new media executives booked for Banff include Ben White, chief creative officer at Sling Media, and Joanna Drake Earl, president of new media at Current TV.

Away from the market, Banff will also serve as a TV industry talk-shop.

The Banff festival commissioned a report this year which concluded that, while the emerging Internet may be turning traditional broadcasting upside down, it won't kill TV's star anytime soon.

Titled "The Future of Television in Canada," the report aims at spurring debate during a town hall meeting at the close of this year's festival on Wednesday.

The report argues that traditional TV is experiencing an "intense mutation," and yet it will keep its position as the primary screen for watching video for some time.

The report concludes that, after initial industry tumult, the Internet and TV will "settle into a co-existence with one another as they evolve to fulfill different roles."
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