Picking up pieces after NATPE

Feb 11, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Tough guy Dick Robertson, the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the syndication world, has unleashed some new collateral damage just weeks after delivering a direct hit on NATPE’s annual gathering in Las Vegas.
Mr. Robertson is a veteran player, who like Mr. Schwarzenegger is a man of action, unafraid of throwing vocal grenades and then backing up his words with hardboiled battle decisions.
The latest: Mr. Robertson, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, is said to be reconsidering plans for a fall syndication program showcase for TV station buyers in Los Angeles. One of the criticisms Mr. Robertson and other syndication executives have had is that the National Association of Television Program Executives conference, usually held in January, generally comes too late to sell most programming. So Mr. Robertson had been advocating the fall showcase in L.A.
However, he’s now said to have soured on that idea, primarily for one of the same reasons he objects to NATPE: By aggregating all the sellers in one place at one time, it allows buyers to play the sellers off one another. Mr. Robertson is more interested in just sending his affiliate sales team into various markets, where they can play one station off against the others.
Furthermore, it now appears that next year a number of syndicators may return to the convention floor in New Orleans after all.
“NBC Enterprises continues to support NATPE, and we expect to be back on the floor once again come January,” said NBC Enterprises President Ed Wilson, who was very vocal about including the organization in the mix no matter what the result of future changes to the convention-and who was among the last to opt to leave the floor.
Although syndicators generally liked the suites booked at the Venetian, New Orleans hotel facilities don’t have the type of rooms to match the sheer space and quantity available in Las Vegas.
Even Mr. Robertson, who was unavailable to comment, has said if NATPE does indeed happen in January, he will be there, though likely just in a suite at a New Orleans hotel.
Meanwhile, plans to form a March advertising forum will not happen due to the amount of planning required to prepare such an event and the amount of time-less than a month-left to complete it. However, the syndicators’ trade group, the Syndicated Network Television Association, is still trying to find a date later this spring on which to hold an ad forum in New York, sources said.
“We just want to be where the stations are,” said another well-placed syndication executive. “I personally don’t think October was a good time, anyway [for a syndication programming convention], because shows would have been on the air less than a month. As for March, I never liked that timing either, unless Promax was tied to it. Then it could have had some value.” Promax and NATPE are currently in the midst of a proposal that would effectively marry the two trade organizations.
The lack of enough suites at any one particular hotel in New Orleans has prompted the owner of the Venetian Hotel and Sands Conference Center, Sheldon Adelson, to approach virtually all the major syndicators in an attempt to make the hotel/casino the permanent home of the market beginning next year. Sources said that he has offered to clear as much space as needed, be it in January or March, to attract the annual meeting. If such a move were made, it would then replace New Orleans as the site of the 2003 and 2004 conventions. Some syndicators have been listening, although the chances of it happening, especially for 2003, appear remote.
The reason for that is that canceling bookings for both the New Orleans convention center and the hotel rooms would likely put NATPE at extreme financial peril, according to sources, at least for 2003. Late last year, NATPE caused a stir when it told New Orleans hotels that it was canceling room reservations and then reversed its course and confirmed that it would indeed hold a 2003 market in the Big Easy.
More questions will be answered in coming weeks, since NATPE CEO Bruce Johansen is planning a meeting with the self-exiled distributors to lay out a proposal crafted to pacify the recent financial and timing fears that drove them to the Venetian. The proposal is currently being pieced together by members of a panel composed of virtually all the sectors that represent NATPE and will be based on a survey sent to members of the organization.
“We’re getting a lot of information, and I am confident that we will come up with a plan that works for most people,” said Mr. Johansen. “We are looking both at next year’s conference as well as [at] long-term plans for this organization. Personally, I feel there is great value in having one meeting a year when everybody comes under the tent, but we won’t rule out being involved if syndicators feel it’s better to have conferences other times of the year.”