Rose d'Or plants itself in new location

Event gets new lease on life in Lucerne, Switzerland

LUCERNE, Switzerland -- Switzerland's Rose d'Or was once the television equivalent of the Festival de Cannes -- a showcase of the best in TV entertainment and a can't miss market/confab for the industry.

Next to an Emmy, winning a Golden Rose was about as good as it got for the small screen. Since its start in 1961, Rose d'Or juries honored some of the most innovative television programming every made, with show such as David Frost's "The Frost Report," Rowan Atkinson's "Bean," "The Muppet Show" or Canada's "Kids in the Hall" taking home the golden Rose trophy.

But the Rose wilted after financial mismanagement forced organizers Bigger Pix into bankruptcy in 2006. For a while it looked like the festival's decades-long tradition would fade as well. A white knight came in the form of Zurich-based event planner Freddy Burger, which acquired the rights to the Rose d'Or name and moved the event from Montreux to the slightly-less-well-known Swiss resort town of Lucerne.

"The previous owners did a fantastic job of creating the Rose d'Or event, but they neglected their core audience, which was the industry," says Rose d'Or festival director Urban Fyre. "By the time of the bankruptcy, most of the industry was staying home. We wanted to return the Rose to its roots -- as a place where the top creatives in the worldwide television business can come together to discuss issues in a relaxed and beautiful setting."

Beautiful Lucerne certainly is. Relaxed as well. Not to say sleepy. Around 400 delegates attended the 2009 Rose d'Or and while there were some impressive names on the list -- BBC creative director Alan Yentob, ZDF commissioning editor Christoph Stoll and CBC's factual entertainment head Julie Bristow among them -- many of the big guns were missing. U.S. execs, in particular, were a rarity.

"I think I'm the only American here," said Tim Cresenti, president of Small World IFT whose reality program "I Survived A Japanese Game Show" won Best of 2009 at Tuesday's Rose d'Or awards. "I don't think people realize the advantages of an event like this. The new show ideas are coming from everywhere now -- "Japanese Game Show" was a paper format I picked up from two guys in Denmark. I tell everyone I know -- take the thousands you're spending on a booth at MIPCOM and put it into trips like this, where you can really meet with your international partners."

Some are starting to get the message. The Canadian contingent was out in force at the 2009 Rose, after being absent for years. And while there was little mingling in the Grand Casino lobby where the bulk of the event took place, the film kiosks screening hundreds of programs from around the world were booked solid.

There are also some positive signs for 2010 -- the event's 40th anniversary. Swiss public and corporate sponsors, after an uncertain start, are now fully behind the Rose and funding looks secure for the coming years.

The Rose of Lucerne is still a delicate flower. Current economic woes make any international trip, particularly to pricey Switzerland, a difficult sell for belt-tightening execs. After being trampled down and left for dead, the Rose d'Or has made an impressive revival. The coming years will show whether this venerable event can return to full bloom.