NATPE Market Power Now to The Indies

By Leah Hochbaum Rosner

Prior to the upcoming National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) event, which will be held January 28-31, 2008 at the traditional Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada, there was talk that this time around the studios wouldn’t just skip the floor in favor of the suites — but that they’d skip out altogether.

But VideoAge has learned that these reports were somewhat unfounded. Both the domestic and international divisions of Warner Bros. Television Distribution and NBC Universal Television Distribu-tion will have booths on the convention floor. A spokesperson for Warner Bros. Domestic said that: “We don’t want it to be a big deal that we’ve chosen the floor this year because who knows what next year will bring? We might be in the suites.” Similarly, a spokesman for NBC Universal Domestic TV stated that they’d “definitely” be on the floor for the 2008 event.

On the other hand, some studios are indeed leaving the floor, but aren’t taking to the suites. A rep for Sony Pictures Television reported that Sony wouldn’t have a booth at this year’s NATPE — and that they wouldn’t be taking a suite either. “We will have people there,” explained the spokesman, “but not at a booth or a suite.” A rep for CBS Paramount would only say that the company would be at NATPE. The studio, however, will not be in the company of its associated King World, which opted out of the NATPE convention altogether. Twentieth Century Fox also plans to attend, albeit without its traditional affiliate get-togethers.

Of those studios that will be participating, some will be with smaller booths that will forego the high-hovering logo signage, which can cost up to $500,000.

If, at one time, the NATPE debate was floor versus suites, today it is the role of studios’ domestic distribution versus their international counterparts and the independents.

“The [floor vs. suites debate] has been more important in years gone by,” said Rick Feldman, NATPE’s president and CEO. “The trend now is that the domestic market is more fluid than it used to be. So when domestic has more product, they’re on the floor. When they have less product, they’re in the suites.”

Indeed, at NATPE 2008, NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution — which will be on the floor — will be on hand to introduce a new half-hour version of the NBC and Endemol USA hit game show Deal or No Deal, which it will be bringing to national syndication starting in fall 2008.  

In response to the fact that some independent distributors have also opted for the suites, Feldman said: “If everyone was on the floor, that would be nice. Buyers would most definitely appreciate it. If the sellers wanted to make the buyers happy, they’d be on the floor.”

For some time now, NATPE has been a key event for the Latin American and Hispanic markets. Plus, in the past, NATPE’s domestic U.S. component helped the studios’ international divisions, which are now required to carry more of the burden for catering to a region that doesn’t often warrant more than eight percent of studios’ world sales.

It is clear, however, that NATPE remains a viable, if smaller-than-it-used-to-be show for the studios’ international divisions, and a good market for independents. The lower dollar exchange rate also encourages added foreign participation. In addition, this time, the U.S. writers’ strike will bring more European buyers to NATPE if only to find out which are the “strike-proof” shows the studios have in the pipes for the new season.

In any case, at the current rate of development, it is entirely possible that NATPE will soon mainly depend on the patronage of independents, which means that the market would be missing the magnetic power that studios exert over buyers, but have less competition for indies. At that point, large and mid-sized companies such as Granada, FremantleMedia, RHI, Power, SevenOne, PeaceArch, Entertainment Rights, Carsey-Warner, DIC, RaiTrade, Alfred Haber, Lakeshore and Lionsgate, plus the big Latin companies such as Globo TV, Televisa and Telefe, in addition to Hispanic groups such as Telemundo and Univision, will have to step forward to bring NATPE back to the glory days of its past. And NATPE is indeed looking to the future by shifting its focus from studio dependence to independents, starting with the announced co-sponsorship of a VideoAge luncheon for the “Independents’ Day” at L.A. Screenings 2008. 

However, the studio presence at NATPE will continue to be felt on various levels for a many years to come, first because some studio executives are part of the NATPE board and, secondly, because the trade show is still a tradition for many in the current guard. Plus, the Las Vegas locale is close to Hollywood and NATPE represents a venue in which to spot trends, in addition to the fact that, for the international TV community, it is important to have a gathering right in the middle of the six-month gap between MIPCOM and MIP-TV.        

While the schedule wasn’t yet finalized at press time, NATPE 2008 is expected to feature a slew of panel discussions, keynote addresses, workshops and networking opportunities. Topics in development include “Programming Goes Green: Tune In and Take Action,” “Calling the Shots: Advertisers Take Back the Content,” “Anatomy of a Short Form Hit: Quarterlife,” “How We Got Here: The Talk Show from Mike Douglas to Tom Green,” “Sizzling Hot: Successful Latin Formats,” “Measuring ROI in a Multi-Platform World,” “Anatomy of a Hit: Entourage” and “Local Stations Ride the Internet Wave.”

Jeff Zucker, president and CEO of NBC Universal will present NATPE’s keynote address. Other speakers include Joe Uva, president and CEO of Univision Communications; Harvey Levin, managing editor of TMZ.com; Doug Scott, executive director of Branded Content and Entertainment, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide; Brent Watson, CEO of 60 Frames Entertainment; Michael Eisner, founder of Vuguru; and Bob Pittman, founding member of The Pilot Group.

“There aren’t any big changes to the market this year,” said Feldman. “In essence, it’s similar to last year, but there will be more technology companies in attendance. It’ll be a broader body politic.”

In addition, NATPE will feature an expanded fourth annual NATPE Mobile++. This one-day event, to be held January 28, and produced with Achilles Media, is designed to provide conference attendees with a concise overview of the opportunities available in the mobile content marketplace. NATPE Mobile++ will identify the major players in the  mobile video market, as well as key industry trends and potentially lucrative business opportunities. The event will present representatives from more than 700 members of the mobile content realm, including content owners, mobile aggregators, distributors, producers and mobile operators. Reps from ABC, AOL, the BBC, NBC, Motorola, TiVO, Verizon, NellyMoser, CNN, Endemol, Fremantle, Intel, Microsoft, Nokia, Yahoo!, Viacom, T-Mobile, Sony, Twentieth Century Fox and more will be on hand to chat with NATPE attendees about what they can do to cash in on all things mobile.

Despite the studios’ challenge, Feldman said he’s looking forward to the convention. “These are turbulent times in the industry,” he said. “The market has its ups and downs, its ins and outs, its goods and bads. There have been changes in personnel and changes in business models. Things are changing every single day, which makes it tough to put our finger on the pulse of things.”

Yet even with all the changes to the entertainment biz in recent months, Feldman expects 7,000-8,000 people to attend the convention — on par with last year’s numbers. “It’s the first big market of the year,” he said. “So it’ll really be a snapshot of the TV business at this moment in time.”