Editorial: Bring back the thrill of NATPE

Dec 17, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The annual NATPE convention, once the crown jewel of the syndication season, has struggled in recent years to remain viable in a rapidly evolving marketplace. That struggle took a near-fatal turn this year when the major distributors, citing the high cost of floor space, pulled out of the January 2002 Las Vegas conference, opting instead to set up shop across town at the Venetian Hotel.
As the scaled-down convention looms, the National Association of Television Program Executives finds itself under pressure to either restore the tarnished event to its former luster or abandon it entirely.
NATPE President and CEO Bruce Johansen took a step in the right direction last week when he committed his organization to holding the event in 2003 and 2004, erasing some of the doubts that were raised last month when NATPE canceled its New Orleans hotel reservations for those years.
Mr. Johansen also announced the creation of a task force to examine the future of the convention and to explore ways of tinkering with a formula that clearly isn’t working anymore.
The task force is a positive sign, but we hope it’s not a case of too little too late. NATPE’s recent record of adapting to the changing needs of its core clientele is shaky at best. The organization seemed to lose track of its mission during the late 1990s, when it pursued the dot-coms and failed to recognize that it was losing the stations and syndicators.
When the dot-com bubble burst and economic reality set in, the situation became all too clear: NATPE was no longer the vital syndication marketplace of years past. It was still a nice social event, but economics made it a luxury most syndicators couldn’t afford.
Now NATPE has a chance-make that an obligation-to get its priorities back in order. Ideally, the task force, which includes representatives of syndication, station groups and cable, will get serious about fixing what ails NATPE, and will push for real change.
A good start would be moving the convention from January to the fall, which would be conducive to getting deals signed. That one looks like a no-brainer.
Another suggestion that has surfaced is to move the event to Los Angeles, where most of the studios are located. Such a move could slash costs while raising the excitement level, cashing in on the inherent glamour of the entertainment industry’s hometown. NATPE could be transformed into a weeklong programming showcase, held at the studios themselves-one day at each of the six majors and a seventh day at a central convention hall for the independents.
Syndicators need and want a convention where they can show off their programming-and more important, sell it. In the past, NATPE filled that need in grand fashion-and it still carries some cachet from its halcyon days. It may not be too late, if NATPE and its task force move quickly and wisely, to regain some of that glory.