Mixed Reaction to NATPE

Feb 3, 2008  •  Post A Comment

For the traditional distributor of TV shows, the benefit of the annual convention of the National Association of Television Program Executives continues to draw mixed notices.
“If our clients, from group owners to reps, feel there is value here, then we are happy to come and spend whatever money we need to do business with them,” said Ken Werner, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, whose company returned to the NATPE floor last week at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
Previously, under former Warner Bros. syndication chief Dick Robertson, the company had led the movement to leave the convention floor and meet clients in a nearby hotel suite instead.
But on the other hand, Mr. Werner said, “If [clients] think that it doesn’t have value, then we are also happy to not spend the money.”
Other distributors were privately mulling their own budgets for next year’s event as well as deciding the best options for their companies. Some said they were considering a shift to the International Consumer Electronics Show, like Sony, but had found the sheer size of that conference, which takes place three weeks earlier, would scare away potential clients who “would get lost in that mess,” as one executive put it.
Twentieth Television—which did business last week from a hotel suite rather than the NATPE floor—was nevertheless one of the companies that was upbeat about last week’s gathering.
“We had a lot of good meetings with customers and really completed some good business,” said Bob Cook, president–chief operating officer of Twentieth Television. “The turnout was thinner overall, but the people who did attend were here to do business.”
He noted renewals of season two of Twentieth’s “The Morning Show With Mike and Juliet” had surged from 55% clearance to 80% while at the market, while off-net runs of “Bones,” which came to the event without any clearances, had reached 60%. In addition, renewals of “Divorce Court” and “Judge Alex” had ballooned to 85% of the country.
“We are able to do more business here than we could ever have done in that timeframe if we flew out to clients,” said Mr. Cook. “This convention continues to be really important and function as a rallying point for our industry. It would be horribly damaging to everyone if NATPE went away.”
Indeed, the conference hosted a number of announcements, from the introduction of Marie Osmond for a talk show from Program Partners in 2009 to the cancellation of talk show staple Montel Williams from CBS, which will now offer “best of” episodes to stations. Disney-ABC also launched fantasy scripted hour “Wizard’s First Rule” for weekly play.
Even Sony Pictures Television, which had scorned NATPE by shifting its focus to CES, caused a small scandal when four of the company’s sales members, who hadn’t registered to attend the event, were spotted snagging customers from the NATPE floor in an effort to earn some business.
“They have gone out of their way to say this is something they don’t want to be a part of, but we’re all in this business together and they shouldn’t be drafting off all the other members who support the organization,” said NATPE President-CEO Rick Feldman.
Sony declined to comment on the matter.
Sony’s International division, however, did set up shop for the market.
Despite the busy schedules and packed meetings for the domestic distributors, virtually all the major studios noted buyer attendance was down and said they were anxious to see how NATPE would lure buyers back to the market.
It’s a challenge Mr. Feldman doesn’t duck.
“We represent a mosaic of the television business,” he said. “Because of that we seek to represent a balance of what is happening in the marketplace. As the needs of the business change, it’s clear that the buyers who will be coming in the next couple of years won’t be the same as they have been in the past.”
Mr. Feldman noted the growing presence of companies such as Joost and MySpace signifies a fundamental shift in the changing needs of the content business. He expects that sector to grow significantly over the next couple of years.
“The online business is certain to turn transactional at some point, and NATPE is now positioned to take advantage of that content exchange as we head to the future,” said Mr. Feldman, noting advertisers also are utilizing the three-day market for brand integration.
Indeed, other executives echoed the growing importance—and emerging junction—of the traditional TV and online worlds.
“I felt for the first time there was no longer the great divide that existed between traditional media and new media, and that this convergence of events, from the writers strike to the new viability of new broadband properties, has finally gotten both sides speaking to each other respectfully,” said Brian Seth Hurst, CEO of the Opportunity Management Co.
On the international front, attendance also was down, although multiple executives noted one reason for the downturn was likely the writers strike, which diminished the amount of product for sale.
However, executives noted their dockets were still full as clients from Latin America and Asian and a smattering of European buyers made their way to the floor.
“We had the customers we expected to come, and we were very happy to be here and showcase our new assets, from our reality portfolio to news,” said Belinda Menendez, president of NBC Universal International Television Distribution. The company also will distribute upcoming network series such as “Knight Rider” and “Lipstick Jungle.” “From our perspective, the international business being done continues to make NATPE a key stop for buyers.”
NATPE will return to the Mandalay Bay Resort next January, but the association is mulling other opportunities in Las Vegas beyond 2009.


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