NATPE 2006: Broadband Is Road to Future

Jan 23, 2006  •  Post A Comment

While not exactly new faces, executives from broadband companies for the first time will be a prominent part of this year’s National Association of Television Program Executives convention.

A flurry of recent deals to make television content available on emerging media platforms suggests that after years of promises regarding streaming video’s potential, the future is finally here.

Search giant Google has made a deal to distribute shows such as “Survivor” from CBS. America Online is starting a group of online channels featuring classic shows from the Warner Bros. library, including “Chico and the Man” and “Kung Fu.”

Computer users can download many of the most popular shows from ABC and NBC using Apple Computer’s iTunes.

Many of the denizens of Silicon Valley who are making these deals a reality not only will attend the NATPE conference but will also speak on a number of wide-ranging panels. Executives from Yahoo and Microsoft already sit on the organization’s board.

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

Jennifer Feikin, director of Google Video, told TelevisionWeek earlier this month (TVWeek, Jan. 2) that NATPE is “obviously a wonderful place to meet with content owners who might be looking for a way to distribute their content online.”

“The large variety of content on Google Video matches with the large variety of content owners at NATPE,” Ms. Feikin said.

Mr. Feldman said the change can be seen by studying what’s on the agenda during the conference. “The schedule is significantly more robust and varied than ever before,” he said. “There are speakers from Microsoft, Google, Verizon and Sprint, Yahoo and AOL, and if you would have gone back two years or three years ago, these are things that didn’t happen.”

Some of the titles of panels offer more clues that a new broadband age has dawned at NATPE. Among them are “Digital Strategies: Evolve and Prosper,” “Technology and Distribution: Advanced Opportunity,” “Mobile TV: What Will Carriers Want (and Programmers Want to Deliver)?,” “Big Screen? Small Screen? What About the New Screens?,” “Redefining Broadcast Value in a Digital World,” “Mobile Content: What’s Playing and What Do People Want to See?,” and “Programming Cross Platform Content.”

Speakers at those panels come from companies ranging from technology giants Microsoft and Google, to phone companies looking to enter the TV business, such as SBC Communications, to digital content providers such as JibJab Media.

And that’s not counting the Mobile++ conference that precedes NATPE.

David Katz, head of sports and entertainment for Yahoo, has participated in the conference before. He said earlier this month that he expects his company’s presence at NATPE “to continue and strengthen.”

“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,” added Mr. Katz, who sits on NATPE’s board.

Mr. Feldman said that the broadband companies can have an impact on the television business as a distributor of content, but could have even more as a creator of content.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen right now, but it’s all happening,” he 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.”

While that could generate additional revenue for current content rights holders and creators, it wouldn’t really change the fundamentals of the business.

“Down the line I think you’re going to see more product created for television-whether it’s through the Internet or over your cellphone or whether it’s an HD platform-than ever before,” Mr. Feldman said. “And there’s going to be business trafficking in that, the buying and selling and advertising and subscribing, and that has to be a good thing for NATPE and one we continue to monitor.”

And the NATPE convention will be a good place for that business to be discussed.

“[There’s] no doubt in their mind that they need to in some way shape or form have representatives of their company at our convention,” Mr. Feldman said. “Exactly how they want to present themselves and what they want to do, I think ’07 will be much more of a significant situation for everybody than ’06.”

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