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NATPE Pushed Later to Avoid Other Events

Jan 29, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Executives at the National Association of Television Program Executives have shifted its annual market to a later date next year in an effort to make it more convenient and timely for participants.

Next year the gathering will take place the week of Jan. 28, two weeks later than the 2007 conference, at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, according to organization executives. That date-the latest the convention will have been held this century-will distance the market from a number of other events that compete either directly or indirectly with NATPE for bodies, press coverage and timeliness. Those include the Golden Globe Awards, the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour and the booming Consumer Electronics Show.

The move also shifts the convention away from the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday, during which many executives take time off.

According to NATPE President Rick Feldman, the organization had been trying to move to a later date for years but was unable to proceed due to scheduling conflicts with Mandalay Bay. A source at the resort confirmed this, noting that not only does the convention floor have to be available, but suites at all three of the hotels in the Mandalay Bay complex have to be cleared as well.

According to sources, both NBC Universal and CBS Television are expected to return to the floor next year.

Unlikely to return to the floor, however, will be Sony Pictures Television, which was once a staunch supporter of the organization. News last week that Sony was considering a shift away from NATPE and would instead put its focus on the CES show sent waves of bewilderment through the industry. The 2008 CES will be held the week of Jan. 7, three weeks before NATPE.

“It really doesn’t make any sense to me,” a top executive at a rival syndicator said of the prospects of taking programming to CES. “It’s a hardware show, not a content show, and a lot of the program buyers and advertisers who attend NATPE won’t be anywhere near the CES. I honestly don’t understand the practicality of it.”

However, a source at Sony pointed out that executives who used to be keynote speakers at NATPE, such as CBS CEO Les Moonves, are now addressing crowds at CES instead. Although sources confirmed that Sony will have an expanded presence at CES next year in an effort to boost ties with new media groups, they also noted that the studio is exploring other outlets to bridge a broadcaster/new media gap, including the National Association of Broadcasters convention in April.

NATPE attendance has grown steadily in recent years, climbing from a modern low in 2004, when the market drew a little over 6,000 people, to around 8,000 attendees in 2007.

That’s still a far cry from attendance in the pre-consolidation era. In the late 1990s, attendance peaked in the 20,000 range, and the number of exhibitors’ booths grew to astronomical proportions. But a downtrodden economy, the 9/11 attacks and massive consolidation among both buyers and distributors took a toll on the conference. In cost-cutting moves, longtime anchors of the market floor turned from expensive and lavish booths downstairs to more economical hotel suites upstairs. In addition, the once-prominent affiliate meetings a number of networks held annually to coincide with NATPE have dwindled to a single event held by Fox.

NATPE attempted to salvage the situation by aligning itself with the NAB, which holds its annual show in April, but a deal was not reached.

As the business of television changed and station programming directors went the way of the dodo bird, NATPE began to turn its attention to new media content in an effort to find a new focus and branch out into a whole new industry.

As the organization moves forward, there are clearly three contingents of attendees who have to be dealt with: domestic distributors, who drove the convention in its heyday; international participants, who continue to thrive at the market; and the new media contingent.

In a brief survey of domestic syndicators, executives said that although they appreciate NATPE, it has become more of a networking event than a sales market for them and that they are questioning its effectiveness. One even suggested that NATPE look into joining forces with the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the annual convention focusing on electronic games and other entertainment content. The event, traditionally held in Los Angeles during the summer, is in the process of redefining its focus to concentrate on the business side of the marketplace, and executives feel that the two organizations could tie together neatly.

“There are only about 200 real decision makers left in this business,” said one head of syndication at the studios. “It seems like a million dollars or more is a lot of money to spend just to reach them.”

Among international dealmakers, executives love the midseason timing of NATPE, which allows buyers a shot at picking up new network hits currently on the air and to get a peek at replacements about to launch. In addition, the January date provides adequate time between international television markets Mipcom in the fall and MIP in April. However, some executives have been pushing for NATPE to plant itself in Miami to allow easier access for a strong Latin American contingent as well as European buyers.

One executive for a new media provider said that NATPE needs to go further into the mobile and digital content industry and either align itself directly with CES or shift entirely away from the event “so companies will be able to provide something new to the scene.”

Members of all three industries, however, generally agree that while NATPE may not be perfect, a fragmenting television industry with diverse business needs among the various segments is best served by one location and timeframe that’s relatively convenient for everyone: Las Vegas in January.

“Rick Feldman has got to be the ultimate baby sitter,” said one executive. “There are a lot of agendas in this business and he has to deal with all of them. It’s not a job I’d want.”

NATPE’s Mr. Feldman was unavailable at deadline to elaborate on the convention’s long-term plans.