Programmers, book your rooms at the Venetian-but don’t rule out carousing on the NATPE floor just yet.
As predicted, the dominoes are now falling after Warner Bros. Domestic Television’s announcement earlier this year that its domestic sales force would withdraw from NATPE in favor of a more cost-efficient setup at the Venetian.
Now comes King World Productions’ announcement that it will likely add its name to the list of domestic distributors, including Carsey-Werner-Mandabach, that will keep their domestic sales teams in a Las Vegas hotel rather than at the convention center.
A slew of syndicators have already pre-sold their primary 2002 offerings through most of the country. Buena Vista Television has “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” NBC Enterprises has “Weakest Link,” Columbia TriStar Television Distribution is clearing “$100,000 Pyramid,” and King World already has “Dr. Phil” cleared in 75 percent of the country. Few expect the other syndicators to join the NATPE rebellion. Twentieth Television, Studios USA, Columbia TriStar and Tribune Entertainment are all expected to appear on the market floor this year, although some cutbacks are possible.
“We’re a strong supporter of NATPE and always felt that our presence on the floor is a function of marketplace conditions,” said a Tribune spokesperson.
Buena Vista, however, is more of a question mark, rumored to be considering cutbacks or an all-out withdrawal. As for Universal Television and New Line Television, there are questions about different aspects of their programming budgets, but a presence is highly likely with strong movie packages available from both.
Although rumors of a Paramount pullout have surfaced, sources close to the situation are saying those rumors probably are not true. Insiders say Paramount may in fact continue its high-profile presence on the floor, either joining up with other company divisions in a Viacom-bannered booth or functioning as a sole entity as in previous years.
A Paramount spokesperson would not comment on the studio’s status at the convention.
NATPE President Bruce Johansen, meanwhile, admits that the shift of the three majors, while sad, is a function of the changing landscape of domestic syndication.
“The manner of selling shows is changing dramatically,” Mr. Johansen said. “But studios who have spread their eggs into other baskets are still expected to arrive here in strength. Steve Mosko [Columbia TriStar Television Distribution president] and Steve Rosenberg [Studios USA Domestic Television president] have both expressed their strong support of the market.”
As for King World and CBS Enterprises, company Chairman Roger King has said that the economics of the current situation forced the decision, and the company will instead meet with clients at nearby hotels. Costs for a major distributor to mount a booth, advertise and fly in executives can run more than $2 million. Last year, the company opted not to throw the traditional NATPE party as an early measure to cut costs.
Now, sources are saying Mr. King, under pressure from parent company Viacom, has been charged with increasing operating profits of the division by 20 percent, and when it came down to layoffs vs. the convention, staff took first priority.
However, though the company is already set with “Dr. Phil” for 2002, the syndicator still has to sell off-net runs of “CSI” along with upcoming renewals for newsmagazine “Inside Edition.”
While consolidation throughout the business has prompted more and more group deals, which in turn have 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,” said new NATPE Chairman Jon Mandel. “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 [to NATPE]. 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.”
Meanwhile, NATPE is planning life beyond domestic syndication. The group will continue to shift away from domestic syndication sales and instead focus on the growing international presence and on advertisers.
The trade organization is also putting heavy emphasis on an upcoming sports track under the guidance of former CBS Sports head David Kenin, inviting teams and sports programmers worldwide to attend so they can meet with advertising, licensing and marketing executives.
“[The studios] will still bring a lot of people to the market and will still have their presence felt, whether they have a booth on the floor or not,” Mr. Johansen said. “It’s not good news, but it was inevitable going through this incredible evolution.”