NATAS Boss Announces Departure

Sep 28, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Peter Price’s tumultuous and aggressive reign as president and CEO of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences will come to an early conclusion at the end of the year.
He will continue to advise and to head up the NATAS Foundation, which raises money for scholarships, education and other initiatives, he said in an interview with TelevisionWeek. He’ll perform the NATAS Foundation duties without compensation—“church work,” as he called it.
The trustees of NATAS, which runs TV awards programs including the News & Documentary Emmys and the Daytime Creative Arts and Entertainment Emmys, are recommending that Chief Financial Officer Carolyn Grippi become executive VP and function as chief operating officer as well as CFO effective Jan. 1.
Mr. Price, 68, said he told the NATAS trustees last spring that he had made the decision to leave before his contract expires in September 2009 to focus on a number of ventures in which he is an investor, including a healthcare-related business that is aiming to go public.
“I’m going to get very busy around the first of the year,” he said.
He had hit the ground running at NATAS after he was chosen in 2002 to lead the group and mandated to shake up the then-fustier cousin of the Los Angeles-based Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. The search committee that hired Mr. Price wanted to make the organization more relevant, robust, diverse and youth-friendly. NATAS had been looking to put on more events and gain new revenue streams.
Dennis Swanson, president of station operations for the Fox Television Stations Group, was part of the search committee that chose Mr. Price, a media executive who never was part of the creative TV community. Mr. Swanson also served four years as NATAS chairman during Mr. Price’s terms.
Herb Granath, the current chairman, was unavailable for comment for this story.
Mr. Swanson gives Mr. Price good marks, saying the CEO has done well with his mandate to improve the academy’s events, participation and standing. Mr. Price has run his office with dignity, Mr. Swanson said.
Mr. Price’s first major initiative was to start a National Student Television Award for Excellence.
But what he will be remembered for are his more dramatic plans to launch a Spanish-language Emmy program and to make broadband content eligible for Emmys in a separate competition.
In the process, he drove a new wedge into the decades-old rift between New York-based NATAS and Los Angeles-based ATAS, which runs the more well-known and lucrative Primetime Emmys.
The two groups, which have a common ancestor, are trapped in a cycle of litigation and arbitration that has cost each nonprofit academy what some people say totals about $1 million each.
When Mr. Price announced the Spanish-language and broadband plans in 2002 and 2007, respectively, he did it without having first gotten agreement from ATAS. That notice was required by the 1977 treaty deeding ATAS control over the Primetime Emmys and giving NATAS the News, Sports and Daytime Emmys. NATAS also got 19 local chapters in the deal.
With regards to the Spanish-language Emmys, Mr. Price said a joint NATAS-ATAS committee “is pretty well along in defining categories and timetables and general structure of the show. We’ve been in touch with Univision and Telemundo as well as the other Spanish-language networks who are, let’s call it, more than enthusiastic to finally realize the result here.”
A decision is expected later this year from a five-judge appeals court panel in New York that may (or may not) finally clear the way for the “Emmys en Espanol,” as he refers to them.
A key issue in the development of the Spanish-language awards is the $900,000 that NATAS has been ordered to pay ATAS toward its legal fees.
“We are willing and able to move forward immediately on a joint Spanish-language Emmy contest and ceremony as soon as the judges rule on the NATAS appeal or they drop their appeal,” ATAS Chief Operating Officer Alan Perris said.
“In spite of all the sturm und drang of, you know, differences and arbitrations and all that, I think the net result of it is we’ve probably come closer together, rather than stay apart as we have in the past and just bicker,” Mr. Price said. “The hope is that collaboration will have been established through all this dialogue and some controversy, but I think the net result will have been positive.”
There are those who think the only way to end the friction between the East Coast and West Coast academies is for them to find a way to merge under one banner. There have been attempts to explore possibilities over the years. However, such talks founder on such issues as the groups’ distinctly different structures (NATAS is a federalist chapter-based group, while ATAS is centralized in Los Angeles), as well as long-standing feelings at NATAS that talks about a merger feel too much like talks about takeover.
“I don’t think it’s anybody’s fault. If you can’t put them together, you should find a way to make it work better,” Mr. Price said. “God knows we’ve tried, and sparring and arbitrating and litigating is not fun—it’s costly and debilitating and it just doesn’t solve any problems.”
It is unclear whether the exit of Mr. Price, who has ruffled some pretty big feathers in ATAS, would lead to détente.
“Sharing a brand is not a great idea. It’s not a great idea for Procter & Gamble and L’Oreal to do it. It’s not a great idea for Cheerios and Wheaties to do it. It’s not a great idea for ATAS and NATAS to do it. It complicates life. It complicates getting things done. It creates friction,” Mr. Price said. “Co-owning one brand is confusing to people inside and confusing to people outside.”
Mr. Price is aware that he comes across as “brusque” to many people, but he has a very clear vision of leadership. It involves taking command instead of taking things to committees, and being willing to take risks.
On Sept. 21, he had his first trapeze lesson (a birthday gift from his wife). He talked afterward about his sore muscles and how “it’s fascinating to put yourself at risk like that and discover you can actually defy gravity.”
Mr. Price said his chief frustration was “herding the cats and getting everybody on the same page and agreeing to do that on some timely basis and some sensible way.” Contrasting his acrobatics on the trapeze to the slower pace of some in the business, Mr. Price said he prefers to leap.
Mr. Price said he’s particularly proud of his efforts to bring broadband content into the world of the Emmys and moving his academy “from the old television business to the new television business.”
“While ATAS didn’t agree with our approach, they had their own approach, and the arbitrators gave us a kind of, ‘OK, you guys can move forward on this basis: If it’s not platform-specific, you can engage these new media in your awards.’ So we accommodated the result.”
Mr. Price compared what he’s done at NATAS with what executives like Jeff Zucker, Les Moonves and Bob Iger have done at their media companies.
“You must transform or you wake up dead one morning, not just for commercial companies who are our patrons but we who live by their good graces,” Mr. Price said. “So we must be a mirror of them and we must deal with the future.”


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