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Why NATPE still matters

Jun 4, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Warner Bros. and Carsey-Werner-Mandabach may have garnered headlines by reducing their presence on the National Association of Television Program Executives convention floor, but they will only end up hurting their bottom line, according to new NATPE Chairman Jon Mandel.
The Mediacom co-managing director is currently in the thick of implementing his agenda despite widely publicized downgrades from the two companies. Mr. Mandel took over the chairmanship in January from Columbia TriStar Television Distribution President Steve Mosko. Fittingly, Mr. Mandel is the first advertising executive to hold the position. With potential advertisers continuing to fill the floor of the annual conference, the appointment is more than a coincidence in the mind of the new chairman.
“If people think of NATPE as just as a convention designed to clear a show in Salt Lake City, they’re going to kill the business,” Mr. Mandel said. “That’s why NATPE woke up and realized that somebody is paying for this pageant and that they should start recognizing that increasing presence and importance of the advertising community to television. For a few years, ad companies were not even allowed to become members.”
While consolidation throughout the business, prompting more and more group deals, has kept stations from sending representatives to the market, the difference, at least from a domestic television point of view, has been made up by incoming advertisers.
“When you have 80 percent of the national advertising dollars at the convention, [it’s] hard to make money by walking away from clients,” Mr. Mandel said. “As for the local stations, it’s funny to me how the studios have talked about how the local stations have cut back in going. If I were a local station manager, I’d go just to find local spot buyers and chat them up. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. This year alone I saw 20 spot buyers just walking from one end of the convention to the other.”
But the high cost still prompted Warner Bros. Domestic Television’s Dick Robertson and Carsey-Werner-Mandabach’s Bob Raleigh to shift their presence from the exhibition floor to a hotel suite next year.
“We did a survey among our key clients and determined that less than a third even attended the convention,” Mr. Robertson said after announcing the withdrawal of the domestic unit. “That makes it difficult to justify spending a million and a half in direct expenses on the booth alone for only a day and a half of business.”
Both distributors will instead pay for rooms at the Venetian Hotel at the same time NATPE is convening at the Las Vegas Convention Center in January. In a suite at the Venetian, company executives will have screening rooms where “clients can relax and discuss business, but at a fraction of the cost of being on the floor and 10 times better,” Mr. Robertson said.
But Mr. Mandel calls NATPE’s yearly event “the start of the upfront season for the syndication business” and says it is crucial for both advertisers and programmers as advertisers and their agencies are increasingly looking for new ways to fund programming-and not just to be buyers of spots.
“The Warner Bros. situation hurts Warner Bros. more than it hurts NATPE, because they are not going to get the traffic they were going to get,” he said. “Nobody ever saved their way to increased sales. Maybe it costs more to be on the floor, but to see clients it would seem [to make] sense.”
Despite the recent events, Mr. Mandel is now focusing on calling attention to NATPE’s other projects.
“NATPE is not a convention; that’s just one piece of it,” he said. “The stuff they do on a year-round basis is brilliant, and if we’ve made one mistake over the years it’s that we haven’t been able to showcase all of this.”
High on the list is spotlighting the education foundation, which has promoted educational activities on behalf of the association through seminars, grants, workshops, meetings, instructional videotapes and conferences.
Another focus will be the plethora of panels available during the annual conference. “Because studio executives are busy doing sales meetings in the morning, a lot of people think of it just as a market, but they are missing all of the panels,” he said. “It’s remarkable the amount of information you can learn by attending.”
Mr. Mandel vows to continue Mr. Mosko’s diversity programs, noting, “That’s not something that gets done in only a year.”
But in the end, change is good for the organization as well as the business, he said, although feelings of alienation are inevitable.
“This organization has done a lot to change over the past few years, keeping up with globalization, new media developments and the state of the business. We have a gem of a trade association that is there to help, and if we as an industry don’t use it as a resource we run a dangerous risk of not having an industry in five to 10 years.”