Slumping economy among NATPE negatives

Jan 7, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Take a barometer reading of how international attendees view the NATPE program market, and it’s easy to come up with comments that cover a very wide spectrum. While most international executives are coming to the show with questions about its future viability, they are also anticipating pressure on the pricing of programming, given the economic slump in evidence across the globe.
Terrorism is on the mind of Koichi Watanabe, president of the Japanese movie channel CSN1 and executive VP of one of Japan’s largest program network groups, Jupiter Programming Co. “The place that NATPE is being held in, Las Vegas, is a symbol of capitalism, and that worries me a little bit,” he said.
Also evincing skepticism is Kevin Beggs, executive VP of series television for Canada’s Lions Gate Television. “It will be the last NATPE ever,” he said. Really? Ever? “Well, the last NATPE as we know it,” he qualified, noting that his company will attend, but it has decided not to take floor space at the show.
But there’s a yin to that yang. “There always will be a need for NATPE,” said Alberto Ciurana, VP of programming for Mexico’s dominant network group Grupo Televisa. “It’s an important market for us.”
Another international buyer who deems NATPE a viable market is Kristine Layfield, senior VP of Denver-based Crown Media International. She acquires programming for 17 different Hallmark channels across 50 different countries. While the channels were once almost entirely reliant on Hallmark’s TV movie library, now they’re branching out into acquisitions, with some 25 percent of their schedules now composed of non-Hallmark shows, moving toward a 50-50 ratio. “We’re coming to NATPE to spend money.”
“Most of the buyers we normally see will be there,” said Steve Davis, Carlton America’s president and CEO, who counts among his company’s top offerings the action series “Seconds to Spare.” He said he has always enjoyed NATPE because the pace is a little slower and easier than some of the other international markets. And he’s a little concerned that the relaxed pace will be lost with buyers shuttling to and from the Venetian Hotel, where the major studios are selling their wares.
Clearly, NATPE isn’t what it used to be. “I think there was a signal to everybody when the [major U.S.] studios pulled off the floor,” said Lions Gate’s Mr. Beggs. “It’s: `Let’s just focus on our core business and cut out the extras that we can’t afford. They’re not cost efficient.’ We’re not different from them; we’re just smaller.”
As both buyers and sellers monitor the new floor-space dynamics of NATPE, they will also clearly keep an eye on the pricing “pressure gauge,” as channels are expected to play hardball with distributors to lower their fees. “We haven’t had those discussions yet, but there’s no question that everyone will feel the ripple effect of Sept. 11,” said Kevin Byles, VP and general manager of CHUM Television International in Canada. He doesn’t expect prices for programming packages to decline but says programmers may not buy as deeply into the program catalogs as they have in the past. “I don’t anticipate a significant decline in content pricing. We may even see some marginal growth.”
“Everybody is looking into their crystal balls to see what the economic situation is going to be,” Carlton’s Mr. Davis said. While some take particular note of pricing pressure in Latin America, Mr. Davis has a different perspective. “I don’t know if it will have a specific impact on a specific territory, or whether there will be an across-the-board attitude shift,” he said.