Editorial: The ball is in NATPE’s court now

Apr 9, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Dick Robertson is a man of his word. After a few years of complaining that the NATPE convention has outlived its usefulness, the president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television finally broke the news that his company will sit out next year’s event.
Instead of attending the Las Vegas convention, which Mr. Robertson says has become too expensive, Warner Bros. will do business across town at the Venetian Hotel. And the company appears committed to a similar arrangement for the next several years.
Naturally, the National Association of Television Program Executives is downplaying the impact of the pullout. But it should set off some alarms for the association, especially with other large producers-notably Carsey-Werner-Mandabach-believed to be on the fence about whether to continue participating.
Ideally, the association will accept the challenge inherent in Warner’s high-profile departure and do some self-examination. Most insiders agree the convention is no longer the essential syndication marketplace it once was. The problem is no one seems to agree on just what role NATPE should play.
It’s up to NATPE to figure that out, and the Warner Bros. move raises the urgency factor considerably.
The convention hasn’t exactly been sitting on its hands as the industry has evolved. NATPE has done a good job of courting the international market and has attracted a growing number of advertisers. But at the same time, it has failed to meet the changing needs of syndicators, its bread and butter. The Warner Bros. move makes that point rather eloquently.
NATPE should at least size up how important it is to keep the big syndicators on the convention floor. If they’re NATPE’s main attraction, as Mr. Robertson says they are, it might be in the association’s interest to offer them floor space at a better price.
If other big guns follow Warner’s lead, NATPE will have a crisis on its hands. The organizers would be wise to act quickly to ensure that things don’t deteriorate to that point.