Syndicators mull own gathering

Dec 10, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Fighting for a resurgence following a massive pullout from the trade floor at next month’s NATPE convention, the organization has made a bold attempt in recent weeks to glom onto a smaller convention that syndicators are thinking of running themselves.
“The problem that the distributors have is that this year the barter market got hammered much worse than cable and the networks, and a lot of this is because we have not been as aggressive as we should have been all along,” said Dick Askin, president and CEO of Tribune Entertainment and a board member of the National Association of Television Program Executives. “So what we’ve been trying to do is figure out a way of resuscitating the Syndicated Network Television Association and looking at the best way of showing our product to the advertisers in a timely fashion. We all decided that NATPE certainly did not meet that [need] because it’s much too early [in the year]. So we’ve been gravitating toward this March/April window via SNTA to display our wares to the advertising community. NATPE picked up on that as a need that the distributors have, and I think that they’re starting to address it, whether it’s in Vegas or New York.”
That convention would also likely service the international community as well.
Other syndicators who have met with Mr. Askin to discuss resuscitating SNTA include CBS Enterprises and King World Productions Chairman and CEO Roger King, Buena Vista Television President Janice Marinelli, Twentieth Television President and Chief Operating Officer Bob Cook, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution President Dick Robertson and Paramount Domestic Television President Joel Berman. Former SNTA President Allison Bondenmann left earlier in the year for a position at Court TV. The syndicators have since enlisted Heidrick & Struggles International to find her replacement.
Sources have confirmed that NATPE execs have indeed pitched the SNTA members in an effort to host an annual ad-driven event.
“For NATPE to address the needs of SNTA, to me is a win-win for both sides because they’re essentially one of the best organizations at planning a convention, and that would tie in very well to the needs that SNTA has defined,” said Mr. Askin.
Added Mr. King, “I think it would be a smart idea. The more you can help me as a syndicator to sell my company’s business, the more money I’ll spend on NATPE. It really gets down to the math.”
The major syndicators had typically spent close to $2 million to exhibit at the annual NATPE market, while smaller distributors came in closer to $500,000 when factoring in advertising, staff transportation, booth costs, parties and other fanfare typical of a large conference. In this recession, economics was one of the reasons the distributors decided to abandon NATPE in January in favor of exhibiting in hotel suites.
“We didn’t see the need to go on to the NATPE floor after most of the major companies had exited,” said Western International Syndication President and CEO Chris Lancey, whose company will be at the Venetian hotel during January’s NATPE convention.
Mr. Lancey said NATPE brought its current problems upon itself. “NATPE, in trying to reinvent themselves several years ago, really got lost along the way. They were not emphasizing programming as one of their core elements. They started to chase the dot-com money, and we saw that develop on the floor with the positioning of the various booths. NATPE lost its way in servicing programming, programming, programming. We’re just looking for a place to launch shows and meet our clients and talk to advertisers, and that seemed so much not to be the focus of NATPE that the stations stopped coming. They stopped coming in droves. And when the stations stopped coming, the usefulness of NATPE was diminished. And that was the most painful thing to watch over the last three or four years for us.”
Mr. Askin also confirmed that NATPE is planning a second convention “in September/October for the station community, because that’s when we’re really launching [shows]. We can’t wait until January to get clearances in critical markets.”
Universal Worldwide Television President Ned Nalle agreed that there is value to a convention taking place when syndicators take programs to market.
“I think the industry needs some sort of deadline to amplify decision-making,” he said, “and I think NATPE serves that function in forcing people to say, `OK, the shows I bought are or are not working. I have to replace them with something,’ and a marketplace like NATPE provides that forum for those decisions to be made.”
What has been clear for some time, though, is that January isn’t the time those decisions are made.
“The real question now is how many of our customers are going to be coming to NATPE in Vegas in January,” said Mr. Askin, who like most of the other major domestic syndicators will set up at the Venetian. “I think that’s a much more critical question than where the distributors are going to be. I’m getting a sense in surveying the marketplace that we may be getting, at the most, on the station side, 35 [percent] to 40 percent of the attendees we got a year ago, and that was way down [from the year before]. I think what’s going to happen is that we’re all going to be trolling the hallways, just like in the old days of INTV [Association of Independent Television Stations], looking for customers.”
The demise of NATPE as a gregarious, ostentatious, larger-than-life marketplace is not celebrated by many veteran syndicators.
“I’m very disappointed that NATPE is not going to be around,” said Mr. King. “I thought it was a great way to network with other syndicators, producers, advertisers and stations that I probably won’t ever see again. It’s sort of depressing. It was a big part of our business. I mean, we compete, but I always looked at being in the syndication business like being a football player. You get out in the field and bang each other around. I got you on that play-you know, I got you in Denver, you got me in Milwaukee. But we were friends.”