Return to Mandalay Looks Like a Sure Bet

Jan 31, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The National Association of Television Program Executives is expected to hold its 2006 conference and exhibition at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas next January.

NATPE 2005 last week marked the first time the show was held at the Mandalay, which received positive reviews from attendees and from NATPE President and CEO Rick Feldman, who said he’s “99 percent” sure NATPE will return to the Mandalay next year.

A banner hanging in the Mandalay last week, on the way out of the exhibition space, was even more demonstrative. It read: “See You Next Year! Same place, different dates: Mandalay Bay Resort Jan. 24-26, 2006.”

Mr. Feldman said late last week that he didn’t have an official registration count yet, but that attendance at NATPE 2005 was pacing 10 percent to 15 percent ahead of NATPE 2004. “It was definitely up,” he said. “Everybody felt it, and we sensed it too.”

“Before last year people were really wondering whether to come and what was going to be the future,” Mr. Feldman said. “After last year everybody said they felt pretty good, but let’s see next year. This year people felt good about value of the convention, and the buzz is it will be even bigger next year.”

The newness of the convention facility, which opened in January 2003, was a big plus, according to attendees, one of whom pointed out that the high ceilings, new paint and lack of columns obstructing views in the exhibition space made a great look for the floor.

Going into NATPE 2005, Mr. Feldman touted the idea of the event being “under one roof,” with the exhibition space and sessions on the same level. Exhibitors who set up shop in hotel suites also were nearby, in THEhotel, located in the Mandalay Bay complex. Attendees credited the proximity of the exhibition and the sessions as well as the suites with contributing to the ease of getting around and doing business. However, “Everybody kept saying to me it would be so much better if everybody was on the floor,” Mr. Feldman said.

NBC Universal, Viacom, Sony and Carsey-Werner were among the big TV companies who exhibited on the floor last week. Buena Vista Television, Tribune, Twentieth and Warner Bros. were among those in suites. The decor of the exhibition booths was simple and rather homogenous all the way around, at least compared with those of NATPE’s decadent past. In fact, the circuslike atmosphere of past NATPE conventions was so absent, the setups on the floor closely resembled the basic arrangement of the suites.

Corporate consolidation was reflected on the NATPE floor. For example, NBC Universal, which came into existence in May 2004, consolidated the former rivals under one banner and booth.

Frederick Huntsberry, executive VP of NBC Universal Television Distribution and chief financial officer, NBC Universal Television Group, said the company’s streamlined appearance at NATPE reflected how the two groups merged into a single unit. “Just a little over a half-year later, it is almost transparent,” he said of the merged cultures between NBC and Universal.

Just a few yards away, the different styles of Viacom’s corporate cousin syndication businesses were physically reflected in its NATPE booth. Unlike NBC Universal, which projected the vision of a single entity, Viacom, whose syndication interests operate independently of one another, had separate reception desks and working areas for King World Productions, Paramount International and Paramount Domestic Television. While King World and Paramount have been Viacom companies for years now, NATPE 2005 was the first time they exhibited together in such a manner.

On the first day of the convention Roger King, CEO of CBS Enterprises and King World Productions, was a dominant figure in the King World section of the Viacom booth, working station executives on a couch out in the open. In contrast, Paramount’s section of the booth featured small tables, resembling a cafe, with sales executives more often holed up in the numerous small offices rather than out in the open. Some conventioneers jokingly called Paramount International, which divided King World and its Paramount Domestic Television, the “DMZ,” as in the demilitarized zone.

“Roger does his business a little more out front than we do,” John Nogawski, president of Paramount Domestic Television, explained, pointing out that Paramount deal-making was taking place within private booth offices. “Every one of these doors is closed right now. And there’s a deal going on behind every one of these doors.”

A snowboarding convention held simultaneously but on a different level of the exhibition space contributed to some confusion at the beginning of the week about where NATPE was being held. However, NATPE representatives with bright red shirts and signs directed foot traffic throughout the Mandalay all week and had NATPE crowds moving in the proper direction by midday Tuesday, the first day of the event. The reps were also posted by the elevators to the suites.

“It’s the best NATPE has done in years in terms of their own marketing of the convention and within the hall with signage and information telling people where to go and what’s going on,” said Bob Oskwaks, executive VP of marketing for Sony Pictures Television.

Mr. Feldman said he will start meeting this week about NATPE 2006 internally with “all of our system people, registration people, publishing people and about the seminars.” He plans on catching up soon with the syndicators.

He also said he noticed this year that NATPE distinguishes itself from other TV industry gatherings, in part because everybody gets along well. “What struck me about NATPE is you go to TVB, SNTA, NAB, the cable show and it’s all about their interest,” he said. “The NATPE platform is agnostic. People feel very comfortable because there’s nobody beating on them. The only competition is to have the best product, whether on cable, broadcast. … We’re totally about the content, and that’s being represented here.” n

Christopher Lisotta and Jon Lafayette contributed to this report.