Q&A: NATPE’s Rick Feldman

Dec 16, 2007  •  Post A Comment

On the eve of the National Association of Television Program Executives convention in Las Vegas, TelevisionWeek contributing writer Daisy Whitney talked with the association’s president, Rick Feldman. Among the topics they discussed were the writers strike, the changes new media has wrought in the syndication business and the annual game of musical chairs on the show floor. Both CBS Television Distribution and Sony Pictures Television have left the show floor for 2008, but Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution booked a booth after several years in suites.
TelevisionWeek: What are your expectations for this year’s show?
Rick Feldman: My expectations are always to run a really good show and that we create a marketplace that is easy to navigate and that we keep to a price point that gets as many people in as possible. I also want to create a conference that is rich and diversified and create an environment where for at least three days every year the video and TV business can get under one roof. And in the end, through surveys and other stuff, we found that [most] people think it was worth their time and money.
TVWeek: How many attended last year?
Mr. Feldman: Close to 8,000.
TVWeek: And this year’s estimate?
Mr. Feldman: Close to 8,000. The writers strike has not been easy for us to negotiate in terms of attracting people to speak. There are certain subjects about which people don’t want to go on the record, or some people can’t commit to coming to Las Vegas in January because they aren’t sure if they are going to be working in January. … The business is not growing; it’s contracting. There are a lot of new video businesses, which we are highlighting at NATPE, but those are relatively new and have only a couple of people to send. The business is in transition and we are a reflection of the business, so we are in transition as well.
TVWeek: How do you view the writers’ position and the networks’ position?
Mr. Feldman: There are two sides to every story. There are arguments on both sides. The writers obviously need to participate in stuff they write, and studios are right in saying more stuff fails than not, and they take big bets and they make profits, but they also take bets on things that don’t make profits. It would be a nice holiday present to have the strike resolved.
TVWeek: How do media companies look at NATPE versus the Consumer Electronics Show?
Mr. Feldman: CES is a very, very big place with a lot of people not in the business going there. We are a very focused business-to-business show. We are in a different space of the TV business and are putting people together to buy and sell content they have created and to monetize it together. Obviously we talk about technology at our show, because we watch content on machines, and they are trying to get into content. I am in no way, shape or form in competition with CES.
TVWeek: With CBS and Sony pulling out of NATPE, did you have to do anything to entice others to participate?
Mr. Feldman: No. Everyone has their own business. It doesn’t necessarily affect the way others participate.
TVWeek: What is the outlook for the syndication business revenue- and profit-wise?
Mr. Feldman: For my purposes, the prospects of domestic syndication are a little better than they have been. There are definitely more first-run shows being offered in 2008 and 2009 than 2005, 2006, 2007.
TVWeek: What has changed?
Mr. Feldman: Some product has been on the air for a while and is getting tired. There have been few off-network sitcoms going into syndicated time periods, so there is more of a need for first-run product. I don’t think it’ll be like the halcyon days of the mid-’80s, but 2008 and 2009 will be better than last year.
TVWeek: How has NATPE’s role changed in the last three to five years?
Mr. Feldman: It has changed by being a much broader marketing conference. We have people in the last few years like Veoh, YouTube, Joost. These are people and companies that weren’t represented. We reflect the new business. The business has brought consolidation and we reflect those changes. We are a much broader-based marketing conference than we used to be, because the way people consume their content has changed.
TVWeek: How are syndicators adjusting to the new digital realities?
Mr. Feldman: That is going slow because it’s just very difficult in a world where Wall Street is looking at a company all the time. It is difficult to make big bets on technology and new platforms have yet to show significant revenue.
TVWeek: Are they not as far along as you think they should be?
Mr. Feldman: The definition of syndication has changed. Syndication is getting content everywhere. You need to expand the definition of what you are calling syndication because it’s all digital syndication.
TVWeek: Are traditional syndicators as far along as they should be in new-media distribution?
Mr. Feldman: They are all part of big companies that have many people looking at how to create content for the digital world. You can’t separate them. In a world where exclusivity is sort of evaporating, it is very difficult. That exclusivity created the value for the content. We had exclusivity and that made the content really valuable.
TelevisionWeek: Who is on the floor this year?
Rick Feldman: The way I like to answer that is every year it changes. Every year it depends on the product flow. The same companies who were at NATPE last year will be at NATPE this year. The major changes are that Sony Domestic is not going to have a place on the floor. Sony International has a meeting room outside the show floor. CBS International continues to be on the floor, but CBS Domestic will not be on the floor.
TVWeek: Is it a big deal? Should we care?
Mr. Feldman: Warner Bros. Domestic has joined Warner Bros. International on the floor. So where I lost two domestics, those weren’t here last year. They were upstairs.
TVWeek: Does it matter where people are?
Mr. Feldman: For NATPE it is always nice to have a robust show floor, but the truth of the matter is the way business is being done more and more, the way niche marketing is these days, people are less interested in more people and more interested in the right people. I was trained that you want to be on the floor because you want everyone to see you. But some people like appointment-only business. They don’t want to see 10 people if five of those people turn out to not be prospects. When you get hit by a lot of traffic, you don’t know what traffic will turn into business. My DISCOP show in Budapest is an all-suite show. It is multiple floors of people doing business.
TVWeek: Do you like that model? Do the attendees like that model?
Mr. Feldman: It’s a whole lot more liberating to be on the floor and go from place to place than to walk down the floor of a hotel. That is not the preferred business for most buyers. Everybody has a different agenda, everyone has a different way they want to attend the show. While I would prefer having everyone under one roof on the floor, it’s not how some people choose to do their business. As a nonprofit, you are supposed to create an environment for them to do business. So I got out of the business of telling people where to go, whether the suite or the show floor. It’s the way it is because that’s how sellers want to sell their products.
TVWeek: Do the sellers like it this way?
Mr. Feldman: Only 20% of sellers are in the suites and 80% are on the floor. It’s been the same way for the last five years. Ratios have stayed the same year over year. We only get a small amount of space from the hotel each year. At a certain point, once all the suites are sold out, any new companies that come have to go on the floor because we don’t have suites to give them.
TVWeek: What do attendees say they get out of NATPE?
Mr. Feldman: Above and beyond the fact that we really are the only marketplace that has a conference attached, and while we are not as vibrant a domestic marketplace as we used to be, there are still deals that happen at NATPE. What they also get out of it is many people come because they get a great education and this is a great place to network.
TVWeek: What are some of the highlights this year?
Mr. Feldman: [We have aimed] to highlight the ad role in development of new content as well as branded integration on Wednesday, Jan. 30. Shelly Lazarus [chairman and CEO of Ogilvy Mather Worldwide], perhaps the No. 1 woman in the ad world, is kicking off the day.

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