Feldman on NATPE Hot Seat

Apr 28, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Looking to build bridges in the face of growing divisions within NATPE, members of the executive search committee to find a replacement for Bruce Johansen said Rick Feldman’s diplomatic skills were a primary factor in his selection as the new president and CEO.

Mr. Feldman was approved unanimously last week to take the reins of what some insiders called a “vital but thankless job.” He will now be called on to “soothe egos and give the organization direction.” Clearly, that’s not an easy task given the plethora of agendas on that table among domestic syndicators, stations, international players and advertisers. Already sources say some executives are moving to approach Mr. Feldman with ideas ranging from an October NATPE in 2004 to an alliance with SNTA.

“You have to be well-liked if you’re going to succeed in this job, and Rick not only met all the criteria in having a station background and sales background but he’s a likeable guy,” said Mr. Johansen, who was part of the search committee. “Clearly that trait helps in marketing the fact that we need to get the conference back under one roof. With the selection of Rick Feldman, the studios have all been supportive and now want to move forward to redefine what NATPE is all about.”

One board member who approved of the choice noted there was some campaigning for other candidates, most notably for former Sony Television head Barry Thurston, but in the end the choice came down to finding someone “who ruffled the least feathers and was safe but also had the vision to take NATPE to a new level. Mr. Feldman was simply the best candidate in this capacity.”

Most recently, Mr. Feldman was executive VP and chief operating officer of USA Broadcasting in Los Angeles. During his tenure there, he launched independent stations in such major markets as Dallas, Atlanta and Boston on behalf of USA. Before USA, Mr. Feldman served 16 years at KCOP-TV/Los Angeles. He first joined KCOP in 1983 as general sales manager, and in 1987 he was promoted to VP and station manager. He became president and general manager of KCOP in 1993.

“Rick has terrific relationships with studio, agency and advertising communities,” said Steve Mosko, president of Sony Pictures Television. “He’s a bridge-builder who is passionate about the television business who I think has the ability to unite the industry so everybody can work together and make the television business vibrant again.”

Bob Cook, president and COO of Twentieth Television, added, “Rick Feldman has clearly been a creative and successful contributor to our industry and will do a fine job leading the association as NATPE continues to redefine itself and evolves to better serve its constituents.”.

In the end, approximately 35 executives expressed interest in the job, with five still in the running early last week. Mr. Feldman will begin work today to tackle the slew of questions facing the organization.

“There’s no doubt that consolidation has changed the equation not only for NATPE but for the industry,” said Mr. Feldman. “Nothing stays the same and you have to take the cards you’re dealt with and make the most of them. It’s a big organization in terms of encompassing the whole world, and it can take a long time to make everybody happy.”

He now faces a list of issues on how and whether to change the fundamentals of the annual market. Next year’s event will be held at the Las Vegas Venetian Hotel and Sands Expo Center Jan. 13 to 16. What happens beyond that remains up in the air. Mr. Johansen confirmed in January that plans were being explored to possibly shift the following NATPE to December, and some industry heavyweights are lobbying for an October meeting.

“Everything is on the table,” Mr. Feldman said. “The problem is that its never good for everybody. Certainly the production and syndication communities would like it to be earlier, and if that’s the overall feeling from my constituents, then that’s an idea I am happy to explore.”

Another hot-button topic is NATPE’s relationship with syndicators who are also members of SNTA, composed of the largest companies. SNTA held its own meeting in February to address and amplify the benefits of syndication to ad buyers. Sources say Mr. Feldman may be quietly approached in the near future to discuss a combination of the positives of SNTA and the slickness of NATPE. On the record, distribution executives denied that any such discussions have begun or that a meeting is being set up.

Mr. Feldman noted that before any NATPE/SNTA alliance takes place a great deal of research and discussions will be needed, but added, “I think that would be a very nice idea.”

One concern that surfaced over his appointment is Mr. Feldman’s lack of experience in international television. However, neither Mr. Johansen nor Mr. Feldman see that as being a problem. “[He] can be brought up to speed quickly,” Mr. Johansen said, adding that he will continue to be involved in any capacity that Mr. Feldman wants him.

Meanwhile, Mr. Feldman noted that his international experience topped another key world player. “I’ve been to 36 countries of which 22 are represented at NATPE; as contrasted to George Bush who had been to England and Mexico before he took on his duties,” he joked. He then added more seriously that “a lot of people like to make a distinction between international and domestic, but I think that’s silly because so many companies service both. This is a business based on relationships, and whether its international advertisers or domestic studios, I extend my hand to them.”