Special Report Conference Guide: Search for Answers Marks NATPE 2007

Jan 15, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Heading into the 2007 NATPE market, burning questions of who, what, when, where, and why continue to flicker as the television industry looks for answers.

Who will step up with a surprise syndicated series in an otherwise listless development season? What will replace “The Megan Mullally Show” and “Geraldo at Large”? When will stations decide the fates of “Cristina’s Court,” “The Greg Behrendt Show” and “Dr. Keith Ablow”? Where will “Heroes”‘ domestic success translate into an international jackpot for NBC Universal? Why are independent distributors making headway in the distribution game?

Welcome to Las Vegas, where distributors from around the world seek answers to changing business models and explore untapped platform strategies to boost profitability and provide content for 6 billion people around the world.

“Depending on where you are, you are either feeling very confident about your position or very uncertain because of how the game is changing,” said Rick Feldman, president of the National Association of Television Program Executives. “There is a high degree of uncertainty out there, but there are also very exciting opportunities this new world is presenting.”

That would explain NATPE’s theme for 2007, “Evolve and Prosper.” With sessions, luncheons and panels covering all aspects of the content industry, attendance is on the upswing at the market, which takes place at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas Jan. 16-18, preceded by NATPE Mobile++ Jan. 15. Mr. Feldman said early projections for NATPE estimate a 5 percent increase over 2006 numbers.He said exhibitor numbers had surpassed 360, with 80 percent to 85 percent of them on the floor.

“Every year it’s a new environment here,” he said. “Because of the digital and other new opportunities being created, there is always a whole new bag of tricks to explore. Themes and problems around the industry this year could be completely different next time around.”

For domestic syndicators, recent cancellations and a dry development season have left stations wondering how much new blood there will be in their lineups come fall. “Morning Show With Mike and Juliet,” a new game show from Twentieth and a newsmagazine from Warner Bros. based on the Web site TMZ.com are expected to draw buzz and clearances for those studios. Meanwhile, Sony will clean up clearance holes with its new court show “Judge David Young.”

“There has been a tremendous reception to David Young in the marketplace, where he will be double-run in every station he’s on,” said John Weiser, president of distribution for Sony Pictures Television. “Clearly, we are heavily invested in the court genre right now, with three shows in the genre plus our other series, but that means there will be a lot of unfinished business at NATPE for us to attend to.”

Other distributors are banking on non-traditional shows to fill programming lineups, with independents in particular looking to carve out a large piece of the pie for themselves. Debmar-Mercury is offering an upcoming “Surreal Life Package” based on a number of series that aired on VH1. Trimark is bringing the Ultimate Fighting Championship to syndication as a weekly. Program Partners is selling episodes of “Degrassi: The Next Generation.” Litton will sell off-syndicated episodes of “Baywatch” as a strip. MGM recently announced that it would distribute Comedy Central’s “Reno 911!” as a strip along with “Chappelle’s Show” as weekly fare.

“We’re feeling very good about our content,” said Jim Packer, president of worldwide television distribution at MGM. “We’ve already had a couple of meetings with stations and the response has been excellent. There is currently a lack of new network sitcoms, and our product really provides stations with the kind of content that they won’t find elsewhere.”

Internationally, distributors are “overloaded,” according to one executive. High turnout is expected from the Latin American contingent as well as from Canada and Asia. As usual, some of the European buyers will continue to wait at home for MIP and DISCOP. Besides sales and format deals, one hot-button issue for these executives will be international mobile rights.

“Right now mobile is minuscule, and the licensing of long-form content is still in its embryonic state,” said Jeffrey Schlesinger, president of Warner Bros. International Television. “But everyone wants to talk about mobile rights. It’s an interesting area where we have only seen the beginning of what will happen.”

That’s a sentiment shared by NATPE co-Chair Stephen J. Davis, who left his position as president of mobile and online media for InfoSpace in December.

“True to our conference theme, NATPE is evolving and prospering,” Mr. Davis said. “We continue to be the largest conference of its kind in the world, a place where people who develop and produce content can be exposed to all delivery systems and realize their potential.”