News Infuses NATPE

Jan 30, 2006  •  Post A Comment

A little surprise is often good for business.

The National Association of Television Program Executives found that out last week at the group’s annual convention in Las Vegas, when on the opening day CBS Corp. and Warner Bros. announced they were jointly creating a new broadcast network, The CW, out of the ashes of their respective broadcast networks, UPN and The WB.

The NATPE convention, which for the second consecutive year was held at the Mandalay Bay Resort, brought together TV content suppliers and local station executives, many of whom-because of the announcement of a new network-found a renewed interest in checking out programming options after learning they may now have more scheduling needs.

For cable consultant Ray Solley, a NATPE attendee and a speaker on a convention panel, that made NATPE an epicenter when it came to reaction to the new network.

“That’s good for the convention, the industry and the community of cable and broadcasting,” Mr. Solley said at the convention. “In the age of Internet, that just doesn’t happen anymore. But here we were all responding in a communal way to this national news. What’s the impact of this announcement? Well, partly in what we do this week.”

The news changed the way people did business for a few days, Mr. Solley added. It has been “a long time since that happened at NATPE,” he said.

The fact that the biggest news to break at the convention wasn’t about new technology but something as definitively old school as a broadcast network was welcomed by John Vitanovec, executive VP for Tribune Broadcasting, which will serve as the primary affiliate group for The CW, but still have non-affiliated stations in three markets.

“It’s great to have a day where people aren’t focused on VOD,” Mr. Vitanovec said last Tuesday. “They are focused on the old delivery system-a new, terrestrial, over-the-air network.”

While many saw The CW as having a major impact on the convention, Rick Feldman, chairman and CEO of NATPE pointed out that the lion’s share of NATPE’s approximately 8,000 attendees were not directly affected by the announcement, and for them it was business as usual.

“I can’t control the news,” Mr. Feldman said. “The news that was made doesn’t affect the majority of [attendees]. It was great news. In terms of the day-to-day business, it was really interesting, but it didn’t affect the business they did.”

Rampant Change

In the past, media reports on the convention covered the classic “floor versus suites” debate, which focused on whether major distributors would purchase booths on the convention floor or secure hotel suites to conduct business, said John Weiser, NATPE co-chair. But that debate misses a bigger point.

“The greater good is there is a 100 percent attendance of big and small distributors,” he said. “From a distribution standpoint, that’s great.”

In addition, both Mr. Feldman and Mr. Weiser noted that attendance numbers were double this year for the convention’s special Mobile++ event on Monday, the day before the official NATPE launch.

“NATPE continues to expand the evolution of the marketplace,” Mr. Weiser said.

Mobile++ could change next year, Mr. Feldman said, noting that he may explore the idea of evolving it to something of a “digital” day after hearing attendees’ varied opinions.

“Some people feel mobile is played out and may not be the business it could or can be, but some people think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread,” he said.

NATPE had a surprise of its own when on Monday Mr. Feldman hosted a press conference announcing the organization was purchasing DISCOP, the Budapest, Hungary-based annual TV content convention held in June that focuses on more than 30 Central and Eastern European markets.

Financial terms for the deal were not disclosed, but at a press conference Monday announcing the deal Mr. Feldman said the price was “one our board felt was fair and reasonable.”

For DISCOP ’06, the name of the convention will remain the same, he said, noting that any change for this year would be “premature,” but a name change within the next few years that represents both organizations “makes sense.”

Now in its 43rd year, NATPE must continue to expand, Mr. Feldman said at the press conference. “It’s an opportunity for us to grow the business but keep the price points attractive,” he said, adding that it is important for NATPE to have a “global footprint.”

The deal comes just months before Mr. Feldman’s three-year contract with NATPE expires in May. There is “desire on both our parts” to extend the contract, Mr. Feldman said.

This week NATPE is expected to announce new co-chairs for 2007, dates for next year’s convention and a confirmation that the convention will once again take place at the Mandalay Bay.

James Hibberd contributed to this report.