Launching an all-out counter-offensive against the AFM, MIFED has announced that it is officially moving its dates forward by three weeks, and will now host the 71st edition of the Milan market from October 12 - 16, 2004.

AFM, which kicks off today, is holding a second market this year, from Nov 3 - 10, before moving permanently to a November slot in 2005 in an effort to force a more limited calendar and knock out MIFED from the annual timetable. (In 1991, AFM also moved its dates to MIFED's November slot, but moved back to its February slot the following year.)

MIFED director Carlo Bassi said the Milan market's move from November to mid-October will be a permanent one, adding that the market is actually reverting back to its original, historical dates.

"Around 65% of the 90 US companies that came last year said that MIFED is fundamental to them. We wanted to avoid the market having to choose between one market or the other. This whole "war" between AFM and MIFED is ridiculous. We need to collaborate, rather than fight," Bassi said, although he added that if push comes to shove, "MIFED will be made more attractive by being the first of the two autumn markets."

Bassi added that around 80 of the companies that attended MIFED last year will already be in Europe in October to attend MIPCOM, which runs in Cannes from October 4 - 8, 2004 - and is just a short trip away from Milan.

Responding to the MIFED move, AFMA chairman Michael Ryan said yesterday: "They're entitled to do whatever they want - It's their marketplace. I do find it a little strange that they've moved it to within four days of the end of MIPCOM, which I don't think is particularly helpful to buyers and sellers."

"But", Ryan continued, "I don't think it will have an effect on the AFM. November is the date the members really wanted in the first place. We've listened to them and they only want two major markets in the year and we've all decided that Cannes is the major festival of the calendar and AFM's going to be the second one."

With a budget increase of Euros 1m, Bassi also announced several major incentives, which includes inviting 100 to 150 specially selected buyers to MIFED, all expenses paid.

The lucky group, which will be selected on the recommendation of top international sellers, will also be invited for a weekend of one-to-one meetings and screenings in the spectacular, panoramic Villa Erba on lake Como, from October 9 to 10, 2004.

Buyers will then be able to attend Milan's annual pre-screenings, which will be held on October 11.

Other new initiatives include offering special incentives for sellers to host the market premiere of their hottest Venice and Toronto titles at MIFED. As such, MIFED will offer a "green card" to the market's biggest titles, ensuring top visibility to sellers during the market as well as financial, promotional support.

With cost control the international industry's single biggest concern, Bassi said MIFED's 2003 prices will be frozen until, and including, 2006. Clients who book early will have a 15-20% discount, and MIFED is also negotiating deals with several hotels to offer discount packages to clients.

"We know that 30-35% of our client's costs are spent on the actual market, and the rest is spent on hotels and food," Bassi said.

This year, MIFED will also host a group of international film commissions, and financial and industry service companies in the Fiera, under the banner "Location and Connection".

Bassi said the new initiatives, including the change of dates, had been adopted after carefully interviewing the 200-plus companies that attended MIFED last year.

It emerged that 82% of the companies that go to international markets are made up of small and medium-sized outfits, Bassi said.

"75% of these say that the vast majority of their revenue (up to 80%) comes from deals that are closed at, or shortly after, markets," he said, adding: "It is the big companies, those that are the most vocal, who say that markets only represent 25-30% of their annual revenue."

He said: "74% of our clients are actually asking us for more markets - as long as costs, which are their single biggest problem, are reduced."

In the future, MIFED, which recently signed a collaboration deal with Italy's premier digital communications trade fair, IBTS, (which will be held in Milan from October 13-16, 2004), also plans on establishing markets in Moscow and Cairo.