Suite & Sour NATPE?

Oct 26, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Despite the National Association of Television Program Executives’ ambitious plans to draw exhibitors back to the trade show floor next year, high costs and the general atmosphere of the NATPE 2009 conference could cause some sellers to keep on living the “suite” life.
While NATPE veterans agree that the organization’s recently announced expansion plans are a step in the right direction, they fear the timing might not be right.
In a conference call with reporters two weeks ago, NATPE President-CEO Rick Feldman announced intentions to double the size of the conference floor and creates a lounge area and restaurant in order to inject life back into the exhibition floor at the 2009 NATPE convention.
NATPE is betting that the changes will lure stations, ad executives, agents and other attendees out of their hotel suites at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, where the convention is being held, and back down to the trade show floor.
“It’s a bold move given the economic times,” said Dick Askin, former president-CEO of Tribune Entertainment and current president-CEO of television consulting firm Askin & Co. “I don’t know if there is enough of a financial incentive for exhibitors in the suites to move to the floor,” he added.
One former syndication exec said suites are cheaper as well as quieter for making deals, while a presentation at a booth is more labor-intensive and expensive. A large booth can run tens of thousands of dollars to build, store and operate, Mr. Askin said.
A suite, he said, just includes chairs and some signage and is a much cheaper proposition.
“Costs are going to become a key factor to anyone going,” said Jim Packer, co-president of MGM Worldwide Television. He said he supports the changes, especially the restaurant, saying it was aggravating to have to wait in line for food at outside eateries when on a strict time schedule.
But, Mr. Packer said, the suites aren’t as money-saving as some believe.
“They’re cheap,” he said, “but not that cheap.”
For Mr. Packer, each distributor is going to have to make a decision as to what best suits their clients. Not everyone is a major exhibitor, and a smaller distributor might be able to get by with a small booth, he said.
“It’s always going to be a little more expensive to have a booth depending on what you want to build,” Mr. Feldman said.
The changes to the floor, he added, were spurred last year by convention-goers who asked NATPE to create an environment that kept people on the floor.
The purpose of the convention itself has come into question in recent years, as station and syndication company consolidation and financial considerations have put a dent in attendance.
“Essentially, we are doing what we were asked to do,” said Mr. Feldman, who characterized the additions to the 2009 convention—which also include wi-fi, a celebrity chef kitchen and a theater for tech demos—as a “thank you” to the sellers who take booths.
Despite the push toward the floor, Twentieth Television, ABC-Disney and Debmar-Mercury will be located in the suites again next year, as they were in 2008. Warner Bros. had no comment on its plans, while representatives at Sony Pictures Television could not be reached.

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