NATPE: New Area Transformed Programming Event

Jan 30, 2011

(Miami Beach)…A change of venue from the gaming tables of Sin City to the tropical breezes and Latin influence of Miami re-energized this year’s NATPE market and conference, headquartered at the beachfront Fontainebleau Resort.

More than 4,500 attendees and 700 buyers descended on the hotel for three days of dealmaking, networking, information gathering and partying–something that has been sorely missing from the conference in recent years of economic belt-tightening, but seems to be back with sponsored cocktail parties for attendees every evening and a smattering of exclusive dinners and events.

One of the logistical challenges was navigating the hotel’s banks of elevators, which caused delays of up to 40 minutes in the Tresor tower where many exhibitors and distributors had suites. Some people described the crush as worse than the New York City subway at rush hour, and many meetings had to be postponed. Attendees who had rooms at the hotel got their daily workouts in by taking the stairs.

While conference panels on three tracks were peppered with vibrant discussions about topics including creative television content migrating to digital platforms and marketing it through social media, it was the stars of traditional media who took center stage at NATPE–all of whom seem to be leaving longtime perches of power for new ventures that have yet to be unveiled, and all of whom, it seemed, were shown the door when they may have preferred to stay.

NBC Universal’s Jeff Zucker, forced out in the Comcast takeover after more than 24 years with the company, talked about his successes, including cable and theme parks, which just had their best quarter ever. The broadcast network, maybe not so much. Even its phenomenally successful "Sunday Night Football" reportedly lost up to $300 million last year. Zucker repeated the well-worn mantra that great content is what matters, and predicted that the future lies in mobile–even though no one knows how to make money from it yet.

Zucker, who the New York Post reports is starting a production company with an eye to doing a syndicated show with Katie Couric when her CBS contract expires, was tightlipped about Keith Olbermann’s dismissal from MSNBC–as was everyone else who was asked about the hot topic. A previously planned session with his timeslot replacement, Lawrence O’Donnell, was canceled.

The man who Zucker once hired to run NBC Entertainment, Ben Silverman, also had a prime slot at the conference–and reflected on his tenure at the Peacock Network, which began in the midst of the WGA strike, a tough environment in which to make a programming impact. Silverman’s entrepreneurial style, which clashed with the long-entrenched culture of the network executive suite, is coming to fruition with his new company, Electus, while he also produces shows and other content with the Weinstein Co. and Yahoo.

Electus is funding and will distribute programming from former MTV creative execs Tony DiSanto and Liz Gately in their newly formed DiGa, including several series with Jimmy Kimmel’s production company, Nick Cannon and fashion journalist Jill Martin.

Yes, NATPE was all about partnerships and pairings. People who had worked together before, and might be back together again. Added to the list: Regis Philbin and Mary Hart?

It came out through very reputable sources–they themselves–that the two megawatt hosts had worked together on a show that nobody saw on NBC. It was a daytime talker, spearheaded by Grant Tinker, that shortly before air was cut from an hour to 30 minutes, therefore almost guaranteeing its failure. While Tinker had recruited Philbin, who was doing a very successful Los Angeles local talk show at the time, he himself brought in Hart, who was at the beginning of her career and hosting a PM Magazine show on KTTV (now Fox 11).

Could the twain meet again? Both luminaries, who were both recognized with Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards this year, seemed open to the idea after leaving their respective programs later this year.

For the record, Philbin admitted he handled his announcement that he’s leaving “Live! With Regis and Kelly” incorrectly, implying that he was going to retire–which he said is not the case. Off the record, his surprise departure is because of a contract dispute, of which the talk show icon made no mention.

For Hart, whose last “Entertainment Tonight” telecast comes this May, she’s looking forward to going out with a huge story–the royal wedding in London, where the show will set up shop for a week leading into the festivities of what’s predicted to be one of the biggest television events of the century.

Pairings, pomp and circumstance–something we’ll be seeing a lot of as the television landscape shakes up with endings, and new beginnings.

And Miami Beach, again next year? [NAPTE says it has about a month to decide whether it will return to South Florida.)

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