The NATPE conference that kicks off today will be a swan song for Steve Davis. He’s currently one of two co-chairs for the conference and this year’s show will be the last in his three-year stint. Those three years brought some of the most seismic changes the TV industry has ever seen.
During the past three years NATPE itself has been shaken to the core. At the start of Mr. Davis’ tenure, the industry questioned whether NATPE even needed to exist given the way the syndication business had contracted during the previous decade.
As the co-chair, his task has been to guide the strategy of the conference, along with NATPE President Rick Feldman and fellow Chair Emerson Coleman. The goal has been to reinvent NATPE into a must-attend event again for program producers. That has required injecting the conference with a new direction and a strategic focus.
“We’re here to make sure that NATPE as an organization continues to remain relevant,” said Mr. Davis, the former president of online and mobile media for InfoSpace, which provides mobile media content. He left that post in late December. He has attended the show for 20 years and has been a regular since back when syndication was a dominant force in television.
But in the past three years, he needed to reshape NATPE to reflect the tumultuous changes in the television business. “We molded it into the broadest organization that looks at all facets of content and media,” he said. “We now look at more than just first-run syndication. NATPE looks at international, production, new media.”
That change enables attendees to zero in on areas they care about. The conference is designed so that attendees who want to laser focus on mobile, for example, can do that and those who want to home in online video can do that. “Therein lies the secret sauce of what we created,” he said.
But Mr. Davis is reluctant to call NATPE a new media event now, even though the agenda is stuffed with sessions that cover online video, mobile TV and other new distribution opportunities for programming. “New media is part, but it’s not the only part,” he said. “You want to know how to take advantage of it and whether it will cannibalize your existing business. We have to remember our legacy lies in the bread-and-butter distribution of the TV business. A big part of our constituency are still those station executives and those sales. NATPE would not survive if it only focused on new media.”
Another important topic for this year will be cutting through the hype, he said. The conference organizers want to help attendees discern what’s real and not real surrounding new business. Some new media forms have yet to deliver, and attendees are eager to learn which are simply promotional and which can generate revenue, he said. Also of key interest at NATPE, especially in light of the lack of high-profile new syndicated fare for next season, will be an analysis of what works in the most popular syndicated properties today, such as the Rachael Ray show.
“NATPE had relied very heavily in the early days [on being] a deal-making show, and clearly it can’t be just a deal-making show. It has to be a highly educational show, but I also want my guys there selling,” Mr. Davis said.