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Universal exits NATPE floor

Sep 24, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Dominoes continue to fall as Universal Television’s domestic and international sales forces have opted to pull out of the National Association of Television Programming Executives floor. Instead, the company will join a barrage of syndicators at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas to conduct business.
The move marks the first major international company to join the ranks of cost-cutting distributors who have opted to cancel their annual booth on the market floor. Universal’s international force distributes worldwide rights to Studios USA’s lineup as well as its own.
Studios USA is still expected to buy space at the convention, likely joining other majors such as Twentieth Television, New Line Television, NBC Enterprises, Columbia TriStar Television Distribution and Tribune Entertainment as anchors at the convention. Universal, on the other hand, will join Warner Bros. Television, Carsey-Werner-Mandabach, Buena Vista Television and King World Productions, each of which is expected to reserve suites on the Vegas Strip. Paramount remains the sole major that hasn’t decided one way or the other on its plans for the annual event.
After confirming Universal’s move, a source at the studio said: “Given the current climate, we felt that our interests will be best served at the Venetian. We will continue to have a strong presence at NATPE and expect to maintain our strong relationships with our clients through the hotel suite.”
The domestic side of the distributor currently offers hit relationship series “Blind Date” as well as upcoming strip “The Fifth Wheel.” Both series, however, have been rumored to be on the auction block to other studios in recent months.
Universal is also in talks with Dimension Films and Abandon Entertainment to distribute “The Dark Ages of Camelot,” based on the online game of the same name. Universal owner Vivendi recently agreed to come out with a board game version of the project, prompting Dimension to announce development of the series. Now Universal may distribute the series about Camelot after the death of King Arthur, whose realm has splintered into three factions.
On the other side of the coin, David Spiegelman, New Line executive VP of domestic television distribution, affirmed his hope that his company will be able to be on the floor come January, despite the pullout of sister syndicator Warner Bros.
“As of right now, we plan to be at NATPE. It’s always been good to us and costs us a fraction of what other studios can pay,” he said. “We end up seeing tons of clients, and this year will be special because we have the `Lord of the Rings’ movie package set to go.”
NATPE President Bruce Johansen, meanwhile, admits 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 has 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.”
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.