At NATPE Convention, Emphasis to Remain on Content

With Perth as new CEO, show will still be about deals; he won’t fi x what ain’t broken

Over the past decade the business of television has changed dramatically, and the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) has had to change right along with it.

Many TV executives remember the not-so-distant past when NATPE was a virtual carnival of hundreds of buyers and sellers, and big deals were made in the midst of big parties. Today, NATPE has evolved into a convention centered around content, with attendees coming from the station, studio, international and digital arenas. In May, former CBS, USA Network and Syfy executive Rod Perth replaced Rick Feldman, who had run NATPE since 2003, as president and CEO; Perth now must guide the association to the next level.

In Perth’s first press conference with reporters last week, plans—like those of any good politician— remained somewhat unclear.

“We want to be increasingly thoughtful and reflective about the experience that attendees have at NATPE,” Perth said. “It’s all about their investment of time and money. We want to be as service-oriented as we can possibly be to explore new opportunities and embrace the challenges that are ahead.”

NATPE will mark its 50th anniversary in 2013, kicking off that celebratory year with NATPE 2013 at the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc hotel complex in Miami Beach, Fla., from Jan. 28-30.

According to Perth, “all of the major domestic distributors have committed to attend, and they will be joined by a long list of independents, producers and networks.”

To illustrate his point, Perth listed Debmar Mercury/ Lionsgate, Banijay, Electus, CableReady, Content Media Corp., FremantleMedia, Globo TV, Hasbro Studios, Lionsgate International, MGM Worldwide Television, Univision and Venevision.

Notably absent from that list, however, were any of the major studios, including CBS Television Distribution, Disney- ABC Television, NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution, Sony Pictures Television (SPT), Twentieth and Warner Bros. Independent checks with all of those companies confirmed that they will be in attendance, most of them in a similar manner to last year, with hotel suites and/or cabanas around the Fontainebleau pool.

SPT is returning to NATPE in 2013 after being absent for years. But whether the company will exhibit or just attend has not been determined yet.

Beyond the traditional distributors, Perth also expects TV station group executives, international producers and digital content providers to be on hand.

Whether NATPE will continue to be held in Miami after this year also is unknown. The conference moved to South Beach in 2011, after NATPE had signed a contract with the Fontainebleau to hold its conference at the company’s new hotel in Las Vegas. It became clear early on that the Las Vegas hotel wasn’t going to be finished in time to house the conference, so NATPE instead moved to the company’s newly renovated Miami complex.

Moving NATPE to Miami has allowed the organization to add more international companies—particularly those from Latin America—to its mix, and centered it right between MIPCOM in October and MIP in March, both of which are held in Cannes, France.

“We are the first must-attend market of the year,” said Perth in a post-press conference interview. “We have to make good on that promise.”

Somewhat like the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco that just concluded, NATPE’s theme next year is “Beyond Disruption.”

“We live in disruptive times, but I think disruption equals opportunity,” said Perth. “At the center of all of it, NATPE has to be nimble enough to embrace, encourage and be relevant. The one common constant is content.”

From a logistical point of view, NATPE 2013 is expected to look much like NATPE 2012, with business being done poolside and panels and presentations being held in the hotel ballrooms and meeting rooms.

NATPE’s format will change a bit, with presentations and panel discussions coming under category headings such as “Game Changers,” “Masters of Messaging,” “Storytellers That Shape Pop Culture,” “Technologies That Fuel Multiplatform Content,” “Visionaries” and “Global Navigators.”

Perth also announced three of the four winners of this year’s 10th annual Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards, which are handed out each year by Tartikoff’s widow, Lily Tartikoff Karatz, and sponsored by B&C and Multichannel News. This year, Modern Family creator and executive producer Steve Levitan, BET Networks chairman/CEO Debra Lee and Cops producer John Langley will be honored.

“I think it’s evolving, but our primary mission is to be all about content producers and distributors, irrespective of platform,” said Perth. “That is our core mission. And if that sounds overly broad, at this point, it’s designed to be overly broad. For now, I’m playing my cards close to the vest.”

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