NATPE’s CEO speaks

Jan 14, 2002  •  Post A Comment

With so many syndicators leaving the National Association of Television Program Executives 2002 convention floor, Sept. 11-related travel jitters and rumors about the 2003 conference being a goner, it’s a wonder NATPE’s taking place at all this year. But NATPE CEO Bruce Johansen is taking this firestorm in stride. Sure, a soft ad market means exhibitors aren’t building their usually lavish booths, attendance is tracking 40 percent to 50 percent less than last year and NATPE did consider steering clear of New Orleans in 2003. Nevertheless, Mr. Johansen told Electronic Media that NATPE 2002, 2003 and beyond will be successful.
EM: Is NATPE going to really feel different this year?
Mr. Johansen: I don’t think that’s the word I would use. It certainly is going to be different than past years. It’s kind of ironic, because in some ways it’s going to feel like the old days of NATPE. In the 1980s, we were doing both the floor and suites. Is it ideal? No, it’s not ideal. It’s going to be awkward and difficult in some respects. But our goal is to make this a seamless experience.
EM: So how is it going to work, then, with so many of the usual big guns setting up shop at the Venetian, instead of in the Las Vegas convention hall?
Mr. Johansen: There’s been a lot of work put into this. Nick Orfanopoulos (NATPE’s senior VP of conferences, operations and sales) has worked closely with the ‘The Group.’ They are trying to find out how to make it as easy as possible for the attendees. Nothing is next door to anything in Las Vegas … there will be an express shuttle service between the convention center and the Venetian. The plan changes daily … but as of now there will also be an information kiosk area that will help people make sense of everything.
EM: Are the syndicators helping to bridge the gap between themselves and NATPE?
Mr. Johansen: They’re helpful. They’re registering people. We’re facing huge costs now that are not going to be offset as they normally would be by exhibition.
EM: At least you can say there will be more elbow room on the conference floor.
Mr. Johansen: That’s true. But many of the smaller exhibitors are not disgusted by this. They think this will give them more of an opportunity to shine.
EM: Speaking further of elbow room, are you concerned about the projected drop in attendance?
Mr. Johansen: Sure we are. We’re running about 40 percent behind. On the positive side, about 40 [percent] to 45 percent of our registrations typically come on site. So I don’t know how we’re going to end up. But I think many people will wake up in January and say, ‘You know what? Last year was a very challenging year. The economy, ad sales were nowhere. So we’ve got to get our act together.’ I think this will be an opportunity for a lot of people to get their heads back into business.
EM: As it stands, can people get their money’s worth from this conference?
Mr. Johansen: Obviously we think that, or we wouldn’t be putting on a conference. If you look at the people speaking, it’s a very impressive roster. FCC Chairman Michael Powell has committed. If you are in this business, you are affected by the FCC. So you should be there-this is his first major address since Sept. 11.
Then we have a Year in Review session, moderated by economist Jack Myers, so I think people will be very interested in that. Another new thing is an area on the floor called D-Town, which is an opportunity to see demonstrations of digital technology.
EM: Is this year’s NATPE just a blip, where you can chalk up attendance levels to the economy or Sept. 11-related concerns over flying?
Mr. Johansen: This year really was the perfect storm. Convergence of consolidation, a very weak economic climate, the implosion of ad support and then the events of Sept. 11. But our business is different now. Companies are consolidating. The entertainment industry is changing. We have to change as well. We are not going to have trade shows in the future that we have grown accustomed to in the past. So we will reflect and figure out how to reshape what our membership wants.
EM: What kind of progress is the recently appointed NATPE task force making in re-invigorating the organization?
Mr. Johansen: We’re not going to be announcing anything that comes out of these meetings. We’re not hiding anything. That is the process we decided on because discussions will evolve and will be fluid. But the goal is that by April we’ll have a firm plan that will be implemented.
EM: What about rumors of two or more NATPEs or a combined Promax/NATPE?
Mr. Johansen: Those are certainly things that we’re looking at. It’s possible that we could have a number of smaller conventions that could deal with the needs of different groups NATPE represents. And it’s a possibility that we’ll combine related groups such as Promax and NATPE. I will tell you that the initial December meeting (further ones will happen on a monthly basis) was very positive. What’s exciting is that every single one of those people [including NATPE’s newly elected chair, Fox President Tony Vinciquerra] represent a different part of the business. They had different views. I’m also encouraging anyone who has any thoughts about what we should be considering for the future of the organization to contact me.
EM: Was there a sigh of relief when you could officially say NATPE will happen in New Orleans in 2003?
Mr. Johansen: Yes. It had been inferred out there that we were going to cancel the show. That had never been an issue. What we did-and we didn’t handle it well-was explore what would happen if we pulled out of New Orleans. The labor is cheaper there, the convention center is cheaper-but then it’s farther away and awkward to get to. You can’t please everybody. But if we had pulled out of our commitments there in 2003 and 2004, that would have put us in serious financial jeopardy.
EM: Any closing words before we head into this year’s NATPE?
Mr. Johansen: We’ve done a lot of soul searching this year. It’s been a painful year, but it’s healthy. We have to constantly think ahead of where we think the business is going to be. And that is one of our biggest challenges.