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Banff Festival Goes Beyond Borders

Nestled amidst the Canadian Rockies almost 5,000 feet above sea level, the Banff World Media Festival has always boasted a world-class locale. But in more recent years the festival has begun to boast of a world-class program as well. What started out as a Canadian television festival 37 years ago has evolved into an international affair putting a wide range of content creators, buyers and sellers in the same remote setting, then stoking serendipitous interaction. “We reached out to international delegates to have the world see us as an international event that happens to be in Canada, rather than a Canadian event,” says Ferne Cohen, Banff World Media Festival executive director. “It was a real concentrated effort.”

HBO Honored

The Banff World Media Festival goes down June 12-15 at the Fairmont Banff Springs, with some 2,000 creators and buyers expected to attend. Each year, the festival names a Company of Distinction; recent winners have included Lionsgate and A&E. HBO gets the honors this time (see sidebar), and the premium cable net will be all over the festival, with four super-sessions, including one on the comedy Girls, with Casey Bloys, new president of programming, sharing about how hit comedies come together. While Bloys is a return guest at Banff, his presence this year gives attendees their first chance to hear from him in his new role.

“I get a sense from our delegates how excited they are to hear directly from HBO, and dip into their secret sauce,” says Cohen.

John Morayniss, Entertainment One television group CEO, has been attending the festival annually since the mid-’90s, and was recently named chairman of its board. He notes the increasingly “eclectic mix” of attendees—creators and buyers of long-and short-form, digital and linear, scripted and unscripted content. “It’s turned into what truly is a content festival, a content exchange, a content market, a content celebration,” he says.

The festival promotes interaction by allowing registered attendees to use the “Connect” function on the Banff Festival website to request a one-on-one meeting with another attendee. “We’ve increased the focus on face-to-face meetings to give producers access to the world of leading decision-makers,” says Cohen. “We’re really trying to offer our delegates a real ROI—they can go home with a show sold, or at least interest in their content.”

A range of sessions and panels, focused on everything from virtual reality to social content to unscripted programming to 4K, helps attendees figure out where content and technology are heading. Along with the Canadian broadcast giants, including Bell Media, CBC, Rogers Media and Corus Entertainment, executives from U.S.-based networks Nickelodeon, Epix and Seeso will share insights. A Seeso panel about genre-specific OTT services offers up Evan Shapiro, executive VP, digital enterprises, NBCUniversal; and Dan Harmon, executive producer at Starburns Industries. (Harmon’s Dungeons and Dragons-inspired HarmonQuest debuts on Seeso July 14.)

Banff will also feature a June 12 keynote from Melanie Joly, minister of Canadian Heritage, who will address the future of Canadian arts and culture, and what she calls “the new realities” of the nation’s content industry.

The festival hosts its Rockie Awards June 14, laying individual honors on standouts of the programming world. Jay Baruchel, star of FXX’s Man Seeking Woman, gets the Canadian Award of Distinction. Netflix’s Making a Murderer is honored as Program of the Year, and Damon Lindelof, executive producer on HBO drama The Leftovers, is Showrunner of the Year.

Deals to be Done

But red carpets and camera flashes aside, Banff is about doing deals. Morayniss says sometimes the best meetings are the ones that are never arranged, but simply spring up happenstance. Years back, before his time at Entertainment One, he heard a BBC exec was in Banff looking for a partner on a children’s show, and he ended up selling the series Shoebox Zoo to the broadcast giant. “That really jump-started our business,” Morayniss says.

The mix of attendees, the picturesque setting and perhaps that thin mountain air all contribute to healthy tete-a-tetes. “It’s the combination of the atmosphere and the kinds of people who attend,” says Morayniss. “Deals are getting done—projects are being bought at a high level.”

Festival organizers have worked to maintain the intimate vibe that characterized Banff back in its TV only, Canada-only, days, while growing the gala into a global media exchange. “The program offers something for everyone working in screen-based content,” Cohen says. “Attendees hear from leaders, interact with leaders—there’s a real opportunity to gain from the event.”


HBO’s seriesof course rack up all sorts of awards, but its Company of Distinction honor at Banff is just that—a chance for all 3,200 employees to take a bow. Richard Plepler, chairman/CEO, said that makes the award particularly gratifying. “This is appropriate because we do all of this together,” he says. “This reflects the enormity of the talent, and the depth of talent, inside our company.”

Long the gold standard in programming, HBO has been feeling the heat, with OTT players attracting their own share of awards as HBO hustles to mint new hits. In late May, Casey Bloys, then president, comedy and drama series, late night and specials, was named president of programming, with Michael Lombardo, a three-decade HBO veteran, departing.

Yet HBO remains a favorite to clean up at the Emmys a year after it swept all major categories. “HBO is synonymous with high-quality, highend premium content,” says John Morayniss, festival board chairman and CEO of Entertainment One’s television group.

HBO stars in four “super-sessions” at Banff: Bloys talking comedy with Girls executive producer Jenni Konner; HBO Films president Len Amato talking movies with director Jay Roach; miniseries president Kary Antholis speaking with The Night Of director Steve Zaillian about limited series; and Roberto Rios, corporate VP, original production, HBO Latin America, and Antony Root, executive VP original programming and production, HBO Europe, discussing international.

Plepler will sit with journalist Ben Mulroney in Banff. He offers a taste of HBO’s winning recipe: “We have a very keen understanding that talent is a very sacred thing. And talent, fortunately for us, likes working here.”

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.