January/February 2011
Volume 31 No. 1

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Miracle NATPE

The above headline doesn’t refer to NATPE 2011, even though its renewed success could be attributed to a miracle. It comes from one of VideoAge’s dailies at NATPE 1994. That was the first time NATPE was held in Miami Beach, then at the Convention Center. We had to wait 17 years before the market would return, if only in a reduced form, but like a miracle, at the Fontainebleau Hotel.

Looking through those VideoAge dailies we relived the TV industry’s most challenging period: An earthquake in Los Angeles that almost crippled NATPE, which is based in Hollywood, as well as sub-freezing temperatures in eastern parts of the United States.

Gerald M. Levin, then chairman and CEO of Time Warner, laid the foundation of the disastrous merger with AOL in his keynote address. Retransmission was a hot topic at NATPE then, as it is now. In 1994 TV in Spain was in the eye of the storm for imposing a new quota for feature films and tightened dubbing limitations. As we can read in this Issue, 2011 presents additional challenges to Spanish TV.

Violence on TV was a top story in 1994 and it is again in 2011 with video games. Returning in 2011 are the parties: So far some 11 were announced. A far cry from the 30 staged in 1994, but still a significant amount.

Other things never change, like reluctance by U.S. TV networks to take their chances with foreign fare, as French producer Albert Barillé of Procidis, complained in 1994.

Even though 17 years ago NATPE was primarily a U.S. syndication market, its international component received more official acknowledgments than today, with Gustavo Cisneros, chairman and CEO of the Cisneros Group receiving NATPE’s International Award of Excellence. Finally, at its first Miami visit, NATPE registered a record number of non-U.S. participants, and 2011 could well mark a recent record.

The Earthquake Shakes Los Angeles and Hits NATPE in Miami

(From VideoAge Daily at NATPE, 1994).

Although the devastating earthquake in Los Angeles did not shake NATPE that much in Miami, nor did the “deep freeze” up East cool the NATPE spirit, the bi-coastal disasters did have an impact on NATPE ’94.

For starters, 12 hotels received cancellations from some industry people affected by the earthquake. Easterners were slowed by the sub-freezing temperatures, but almost all of them made the trip down.

More problematic, though, were the computer breakdowns at NATPE headquarters. The first caused by the earthquake, the second due to the cold, since on its way to Miami, the equipment had to be routed to the freezing zone.

In any case, a record 11,000 participants are expected to attend this 31st annual conference, down from an estimated high of 13,000. Overall, more than $32 million will be spent on NATPE, with major studios like Fox spending a reported $2.5 million for the three-day event.

In Miami, conventioneers are scattered among 36 hotels interconnected by a free shuttle bus service provided by NATPE. This compares to 12 official hotels at last year’s NATPE in San Francisco and next year’s in Las Vegas (Jan. 23-26). Like other bi-coastal companies VideoAge International and The TV Executive were affected twice.

Our publisher flew to L.A. to supervise printing hours before the earthquake. Fortunately, the power outage didn’t last long and the magazines continued to be printed through 50 aftershocks. When magazines were shipped, UPS accepted the first 24 boxes with “open” arms, so to speak: Their roof had collapsed.

New York was another story. Airport delays in L.A. combined with a deep freeze in the East made a typical four and a half hour flight into a 13-hour trip. Indeed, as Genesis’ Doug Friedman stated, this is truly a “miracle NATPE.”

Hi-Tech Not a Mirage: Levin

The much-discussed electronic Superhighway is for real, Gerald M. Levin, chairman and CEO of Time Warner emphasized in his keynote address yesterday.

“It’s not a mirage, or wishful thinking or hype,” he stressed. “What makes it real is the one fact that was never there before — the technological architecture that can reach into the home and make it happen.” Levin pointed out the Time Warner test of a full service network in Orlando later this year. This, he noted, will “tell us a great deal about the programming most in demand.”

The question, said Levin, is “no longer if, but when?” And he added: “In my opinion TV’s ability to function as a VCR will become a regular part of America’s homes and businesses.” The industry should not worry about interactivity, Levin urged. “It isn’t going to obliterate other media. The dynamic of the media has always been one of expanding choices, of giving consumers new options, and of an increased demand for programming. Interactivity is going to change how consumers perceive the world.”

Entertainment, said Levin, is at the heart of television, adding, “This is what gives our culture such universal appeal.”

Fallout From Retrans Consent

Likening October 6 to last week’s earthquake in L.A., panelists on yesterday’s “Life After Retransmission Consent” seminar were in agreement with at least one fact that the effects were strongly felt, but the verdict is hardly in yet. Perhaps Frank Smith, owner and president of KRIS-TV Corpus Christi summed it up best, when he said, “I didn’t want any of their crap. I wanted dollars. I negotiated cash from all the cable companies. Cash and scholarships. TCI, Crown and Post-Newsweek all pitched in to partially fund high school and college scholarships for training in the industry.”

While there were several statements to the effect that retransmission consent was driven by consumer needs, Marty Franks, senior VP, CBS disagreed. “I don’t think it was driven by consumer preference. The viewers didn’t ask for ESPN2 and the advertisers didn’t say they needed more space. There was no crying need for more general entertainment channels from the public,” he said. Franks went on to say, “I don’t think it was the intent of Congress to create a bunch of new cable channels.” This comment was greeted by applause.

Spain Imposes New Quotas

Once again stressing the focus on the maintenance of European culture in the face of massive American film and TV imports, Spain has imposed a new quota for feature film exhibition and has tightened its already existing dubbing limitations.

Simultaneously, the French Senate gave final approval to a law that demands that 40 percent of all music played on French radio stations must be French. The French have no cinema quota, but maintain a 40 percent TV quota for material originating in the U.S. and non- EEC countries, such as Japan.

The Spanish regulations provide that, in towns with a population exceeding 125,000, every two days that a movie house is devoted to American films, the third day must be matched by booking a European picture. At this moment, Hollywood imports dominate the Spanish box office to the point where — as in Italy — some 80 percent of all films shown come from Hollywood.

At the dubbing end, the government will restrict dubbing licenses to those film distributors that have already shown European pictures that have earned $143,000 in box office revenue during a given year.

Since the average European film earns about $64,000 in Spain, a company will have to distribute three European imports before receiving a license to dub one American picture.

The Spanish action came just days after the signing of the new GATT agreement which excluded the audiovisual end, therefore it has no impact on possible European quotas or other import restrictions applying to American films in theaters or on TV.

“If countries all over the world buy my children’s programs, why can’t I get the Americans to put them on? Are American children so different from kids in the rest of the world?” asked a frustrated Albert Barillé of Procidis, one of Europe’s top producers of animated children’s shows.

“When I show one of our programs to an American network, and the answer comes back this won’t work with our kids, I really have to ask: How do you know? Have you tried it?” said Barillé.

“Americans talk a lot about the need to cut down on violence and to become more educational in children’s shows. Well, our programs are precisely that. Fortunately, our product is very successful all over the world, so it’s not a ‘live or die’ question whether we sell in the U.S. or not. If broadcasters look for improved programs for children, why don’t they consider our shows instead of insisting — without trying — that they won’t work in the American market.”

Cisneros to be Honored at NATPE

Gustavo Cisneros, chairman and CEO of the Cisneros Group of Companies (CGC), will be presented with NATPE’s International Award of Excellence tomorrow evening. CDC is a $5 billion company, which is a principal partner in Univision and owns Venevision, a prolific producer of programming for the global marketplace.

Cisneros will be the first recipient of this award that NATPE International has instituted to honor the major contributions of individuals in the global television industry. “We are pleased that the first recipient is Gustavo Cisneros. His long-term business success and his vision concerning telecommunications opportunities for the global market are unparalleled,” said NATPE president and COO Bruce Johansen.

A Miracle NATPE Struggles With TV Violence

Other key items at NATPE included the issue of violence on television, which took up virtually the entire address of Reed Hundt, the new chairman of the FCC; interactivity; infomercials, which are beginning to creep into prime time; the looming arrival of a 500-channel universe and its broad implications, and the need for improved, FCC-friendly children’s shows.

Also very obvious at NATPE was the rapid growth in the number of talk shows, with many of their hosts in attendance.

Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, made his seemingly only appearance at a TV trade show event.

NATPE reported a record attendance of over 11,000, including the largest contingent ever from abroad. In fact, the impression was that, for the first time in its history, NATPE had been truly internationalized and was on its way to becoming the world’s premiere trade fair. The international crowd grew by 25 percent by most estimates.

Staged were some 30 parties and 30 seminars, including eight at the Independent TV associations two days prior. A total of 392 exhibitors, compared to 256 from last year, participated.

Still, foreign TV executives complained that the U.S. TV market remained essentially closed to them. The main advantage of coming to NATPE, they said, was the personal contacts they were able to make with top American executives.

Apart from the quite thorough discussions of industry issues, it was clear that the industry was burgeoning and, essentially, in a healthy state. The vast NATPE exhibition floor sparkled with the most elaborate displays ever, and sales talk resounded everywhere.

Tighter security at the Convention Center ruffled a few feathers yesterday after a man tried to enter the floor through the ceiling on a rope. NATPE security met through the night to plan for stricter rules, resulting in delays for delivery of publications to their bins and restricted access to exhibitors.

In terms of programming, NATPE brought no great surprises, nor did it reflect a desire for either change or experimentation. NATPE did feature a host of smaller producer/distributors with offbeat programs, and they did brisk business.

When all was said and done, this NATPE was pronounced one of the most successful ever.