NATPE Turnaround

Jan 23, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Became a Reality

A year ago TelevisionWeek noted that the National Association of Television Program Executives and its annual conference appeared to be at a turning point, poised for a return to vitality after a couple of years on life support. One year later, as the NATPE show gets under way again this week in Las Vegas, we can report that there has been real progress toward making the show relevant and of value to all participants.

A confluence of internal and external factors, including an improving business climate and solid leadership by NATPE President and CEO Rick Feldman, have helped restore much of the excitement and purpose to the annual syndication marketplace. And it has happened more quickly and with more solid results than anyone could have predicted a year ago.

NATPE 2005 shapes up as something more than an annual party for the syndication business-even though, as parties go, it promises to be a good one. At this year’s NATPE conference, more than at any in the past several years, it is likely that important deals will be made. Unlike last year, when most of the big deals were completed before the conference, this year a number of high-profile projects remain in play. Telepictures’ “The Tyra Banks Show,” Sony’s Robin Quivers project and Twentieth’s Suze Orman series are just a few of the major shows that are still searching for deals with major station groups. Twentieth’s revival of “A Current Affair” and NBC Universal’s upcoming Martha Stewart project have major station group commitments but now need to fill in the rest of the country.

When Mr. Feldman stepped into the leadership role at NATPE a couple of years ago, the syndication business and the organization were in bad shape. Rampant consolidation and a recession were battering the marketplace, many studios had moved from the show floor into private suites and more than a few insiders were ready to declare that both the NATPE show and the syndication business were near death.

Recognizing that the organization needed to change, Mr. Feldman cut costs, reorganized the staff and was able to reach out to both large and small players in the business to make the show more relevant. Some studios returned to the show floor while others remained in suites, but now do so in coordination with NATPE. Mr. Feldman and his team have also made the programming more compelling, so that there is real value to attending seminars and panel discussions. And they have made it a friendlier environment for group meetings and for international buyers and sellers.

The results of that effort will play out this week at NATPE. Whether breakthrough deals will be made remains to be seen. Part of the excitement of the event is that one can never be sure what will happen. But the conditions are in place once again for a successful syndication marketplace. And that alone represents an impressive achievement for the industry and the NATPE organization.