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Promax-NATPE merger on table

Jan 28, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Trade organization Promax BDA is prepared to approve a proposal to merge with NATPE before Promax’s June convention in Los Angeles, sources said.
Although legal issues and countless details would still need to be sorted out, one member of the Promax board said that the group would move forward “with 99.9 percent certainty” with the alliance if the National Association of Television Program Executives approves it.
Although Promax BDA President Glynn Brailsford would not confirm that the deal had been approved, he was positive on the outlook of the situation.
“Right now the alliance looks very promising,” he said. “We’re still in some exploratory talks, but the longer it goes, the more confident I am about what we could bring to the industry.”
Analysts said that among other things, the marriage would bring Promax BDA a greater resource base with stations and studios, while NATPE would get access to Promax’s strong international outlets.
On the NATPE side of the equation, that organization’s President and CEO Bruce Johansen said that NATPE had yet to approve the alliance between the two nonprofit agencies but was excited by the prospects.
“I’m very hopeful that it will work out, but we first need to make sure that it makes sense, not only for us but for Promax as well,” said Mr. Johansen, who added that a decision could be reached at his organization’s spring meeting.
One positive sign for the June convention is renewed interest from some station groups that sat out the meeting last year. Mr. Brailsford is looking to take advantage of that interest with some new initiatives for the stations as well as by adding a U.S. Hispanic track to join last year’s successful news track.
As for last week’s NATPE convention, the biggest intrigue was the war of words between Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution President Dick Robertson and NATPE’s Mr. Johansen that led to a debate on whether swift action or a slow, methodical approach would better suit the syndication industry.
Syndicators seem to be divided on how much to rely on the organization as they press for a March advertising showcase and an October/November programming market. Meanwhile, international clients are content with the January time frame.
On Jan. 22, Mr. Robertson outlined a plan for the Syndicated Network Television Association in which syndicators would mount a first-ever syndication-upfront presentation in New York this March for advertisers and an L.A.-based syndication screening event in Los Angeles in the fall for local stations. The idea had been tossed around the past few months among syndicator bigwigs. Other distributors such as Carsey-Werner and Buena Vista were quick to echo Mr. Robertson’s sentiments and proclaim they would certainly attend the meeting with or without NATPE. Mr. Robertson also suggested that his company would not attend the New Orleans convention next January, even in hotel suites.
“His announcement was both disrespectful and disruptive to our attempts to work with a seamless industry,” responded Mr. Johansen, who said legal issues would be raised if syndicators used any exclusionary tactics in any new venture. “They need to give us time to come to the public and the industry to find solutions for their problems.”
NATPE announced late last year that a task force was being created to study these problems and had a spring deadline to announce any changes. A number of syndicators responded by pressing the importance of being patient and trying to include NATPE while recognizing the need for change.
“NATPE is still a great rallying point, be it through meeting new customers or getting face-to-face time with old ones,” said Bob Cook, president and chief operating officer of Twentieth Television. “It remains incredibly important for us to continue to support our industry despite the incredible need to for NATPE to reinvent itself, and I sincerely hope that we can work out these issues.”
Part of the Venetian squad, Mr. Cook noted that he had saved nearly $1.4 million by moving away from the convention center, without sacrificing quality time with clients. However, he still found the trade organization to be an invaluable tool. At a panel on Jan. 23, Tribune Entertainment President Dick Askin joined others in echoing those sentiments.
But the need for change continues to weigh heavily on executives’ minds, especially in a continually rough ad market. Few believe there would be enough time to plan a March upfront, but syndicators remain ready just in case.
“I’m open-minded and think we can get done what has to be done in a number of ways,” said Matt Cooperstein, senior VP of domestic television syndication at Universal Television.
“Whatever [is] most cost-effective for both me and my clients is what’s important. I know I certainly wouldn’t mind coming back to Las Vegas.”