Exec exodus at Banff World TV fest

U.S., European attendees skip town early

BANFF, Alberta -- Tuesday lived up to its "moving day" reputation at the Banff World Television Festival as a slew of U.S. and European executives shipped out amid frigid Rocky Mountain temperatures, leaving the fest largely the province of local producers and broadcasters.

But the cold, wet weather that left business suits damp and hair disheveled did little to discourage Canuck producers emboldened by Monday's news that 20th Century Fox Television had bought U.S. format rights to the homegrown comedy "Little Mosque on the Prairie."

During the recent writers strike, opportunistic Canadian producers sold two homegrown dramas -- "Flashpoint" and "The Listener" -- to CBS and NBC, respectively. But Fox's play for "Little Mosque" is seen as evidence that U.S. studios now see pure development potential in Canadian TV series.

"They looked at the concept and they liked it and that's what they bought," said Christine Shipton, senior vp of drama and factual content at CanWest Broadcasting.

Les Tomlin, president and CEO of Canadian producer Peace Point Entertainment Group, said that Americans in Banff this year have been far more receptive to working with Canadians and other international production partners than in past years.

"Five years ago, I'd talk about tax credits and Canadian co-productions and they'd think I had two heads. (U.S. company's) feelings were, if we like the show, we'll finance all of it," Tomlin said.

Among the international stragglers in Banff, the key talking points were conquering piracy and the emerging digital world.

"It's scary. You spend a lot of money producing these shows and producing content and if people are stealing the content, you're not going to be able to produce it for much longer," Doug Ellin, creator HBO's "Entourage" series told delegates.

Elsewhere, Malcolm Wall, CEO of content for Virgin Media, predicted continuing audience erosion as audiences fled conventional networks for new media platforms.

"The U.S. networks lost 6 million viewers between May 2007 and May 2008. That means diminished advertising revenue," Wall told festival delegates.

The Banff World Television Festival wraps Wednesday.