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Broadbanders Head to NATPE

Jan 2, 2006  •  Post A Comment

With the burgeoning popularity of broadband video, the annual National Association of Television Program Executives convention is drawing the attention of the major Internet portal companies seeking content to drive their search engines and fill their Web sites.

“We’re talking to a number of content owners right now, and we’ll continue to do so at NATPE because it’s obviously a wonderful place to meet with content owners who might be looking for a way to distribute their content online,” said Jennifer Feikin, director of Google Video.

David Katz, head of sports and entertainment at Yahoo, said he’s looking at NATPE as a place to find out about the newest programming projects. “We live in Hollywood now and we’ve got relationships with virtually all the networks and studios, so we have an ongoing dialogue with those companies,” said Mr. Katz, who worked for CBS until about six months ago and is on NATPE’s board. “We’re looking at NATPE as a great place for the community to get together to learn a little bit about what’s coming up, and it’s a great place where you’ve got all the key partners kind of congregating.”

“Clearly, there’s so much explosive growth on the Web and in wireless, the conference is taking on additional dimensions,” said Jim Bankoff, executive VP of AOL programming and products. As it did last year, AOL will have a contingent at NATPE.

“What’s happened in the last three months of these announcements I think has opened people’s eyes,” said Blair Westlake, corporate VP of Microsoft’s media, entertainment and technology convergence group. “I think there’s now realization that this is going to provide some huge opportunities for [broadcasters and cable services], and it’s really advanced discussions in a serious way because I think people realize that our reach with the PC is vast. There are 650 million PCs in the world that are powered by Windows, and that’s a large audience for people.”

Mr. Westlake, a former Universal Television and Gemstar-TV Guide executive, will speak at the conference about digital rights management.

To be sure, broadband companies have sent representatives to NATPE in the past and have appeared on panels. But broadband video has vaulted into the headlines this year, and companies such as Google and Yahoo are top of mind with TV executives. Indeed, Yahoo’s Mr. Katz, who was formerly senior VP of strategic planning and interactive ventures for CBS, will be on a NATPE panel. And just last week Yahoo and CBS closed a deal to stream CBS sitcoms on Yahoo.

“I think we’re evaluating the landscape right now and I think we’re trying to figure out is there a new syndication window for video content on the Internet,” he said. “I don’t think there’s an answer to that question at this time. But we certainly want to investigate it, and we think in the future that IP distribution of video is going to be a viable distribution platform.”

NATPE President and CEO Rick Feldman is welcoming the broadband companies to the conference and reshaping the organization with board members from new media, including Mr. Katz and Mr. Westlake.

“I think that we are in the process of morphing from what was a domestic syndication show to what is really, truly now, or is coming to be, a global digital distribution show,” Mr. Feldman said. “For us at NATPE, we are essentially a reflection of what’s happening in the business-a mirror.”

Judging from the AOL deal with Warner Bros., Web companies are going to be acquiring more product, and possibly exhibiting at the conference at some point.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen right now, but it’s all happening.” Mr. Feldman said. “In a couple of years they will almost be like cable channels, and they’ll be another digital video distribution and exhibition forum and they will be looking for product and selling to advertisers and selling subscriptions and possibly even generating enough original product that they will be selling themselves to somebody else at some point.”

Right now, the broadband companies are learning about television and the television companies are learning about broadband. And Mr. Feldman thinks NATPE can play a role in that process.

“Some of the other people at some of these companies that don’t have a TV background need to be better educated about NATPE, which is what we’re doing. It hasn’t been difficult to establish the conversation. It’s been somewhat complicated about trying to figure out at this early time in their world how best can NATPE service them.”

“It’s a very new area, so it’s not as easy to understand as just searching over a Web page and linking to it,” said Google’s Ms. Feiken. “But I don’t think it’s a question of them not understanding it. I think it’s a question of us building a partnership to understand how we might work together and what the platform looks like, what the user experience is and for the entire industry being very excited about a whole new industry of video content.”

The broadband companies are still ironing out their strategies for the television business.

After running afoul of some broadcasters by running video pulled off the air, Google is now stressing forming partnerships with content owners.

“It’s balancing a user’s interest in having immediate access to the world’s video content with the content owners’ interest in controlling the distribution of that content and earning revenue, if that’s their desire, or promoting it if that’s what they wish,” Ms. Feiken said. “Different content owners are going to have different interests in how they distribute their video and how it’s seen on Google Video.”

Most of the video content presently on Google Video has been uploaded by amateurs and is available free to Web surfers. But Google Video also allows content owners to charge for their video.

“We’ll work with them to create the best experience for what their particular interests are,” Ms. Feiken said. “I don’t think there’s going to be one particular way that we’re going to mandate that the platform will serve the content.”