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NATPE offers look at big picture

Johansen says influx of new media is important but emphasis is still on TV programming 1/14/2001 07:00:00 PM Eastern

NATPE, in theory, is television-executive heaven. Each year the industry's big shots converge in one location to see what's hot in TV. Yet many who attend act as if going to NATPE were like going to the dentist: they know they've got to go, it's good for them, but few actually look forward to the event.

However, NATPE organizers think that attendees who head to the Las Vegas convention center from Jan. 22-25 will have fun as well as getting important business done.

Why? For one thing, with such communication advancements as e-mail and teleconferencing, most programming deals are already locked up before NATPE even starts. Plus, NATPE also seems to be adding more and more new media to the mix, after spending 38 years as primarily a source to facilitate the buying and selling of TV shows. As TV stations and studios continue to consolidate, tech-heavy companies at NATPE multiply.

"Clearly the business has changed," says NATPE chairman and CEO Bruce Johansen. "There's not the same need to meet every general manager across the country at NATPE, that is clearly true. However, there is still an opportunity to work with your customers on other levels."

Johansen believes that traditional media companies, like broadcasters and TV program suppliers, can benefit from tech firms' know-how. Stations and studios can learn how to leverage their programming onto digital channels and refine their Internet content.

"It's about revenue enhancement," he explains. "The station people need to do this because they are looking down the road at their compensation either being reduced or evaporating with networks reducing the amount of money they give to their affiliates. So stations are looking for ways to replace that revenue and the dotcom folks have solutions for that."

Even strict broadcasters, not yet taken by the Internet, can do plenty of wheeling and dealing at NATPE. And Johansen stands by this claim even if they've nailed down every single one of their programs for their fall station lineups.

"Picking up the phone, doing a conference call and selling a show is just the beginning of the process," he explains. "If you're a Fox affiliate somewhere in the Midwest and Fox, as a group, has bought a show, Fox may not have thought about your particular needs in your particular market. So sometimes, general managers have to air a product that they don't want. Your show is not guaranteed a good time period. That's when the work begins. What NATPE offers is all those other opportunities to meet with stations to make sure a show is successful."

Moreover, this year in particular could bring some exciting show strategy sessions to NATPE, which is fitting, considering the convention takes place in Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the world.

"Look, there's a lot up in the air this year," acknowledges Steve Mosko, Columbia TriStar Television Distribution chief and NATPE 2001 chairman. "Hopefully, we can get everything solved during the convention."

Certain syndicators haven't officially announced their fall 2001 offerings. Mosko's CTTD is expected to bring two shows to NATPE, a Donny Osmond-hosted game show, Pyramid,
and dating strip Shipmates. But at press time, nothing was writ in stone. It's a similar story with Pearson Television, which is said to be choosing among several action hours: Lean Angle, Colosseum
and Wild Roses
are all likely, but not definite NATPE contenders. Plus Buena Vista Television's Iyanla
hasn't yet found a key Los Angeles clearance.

"This will be an important NATPE meeting," notes Katz TV's Bill Carroll.

Carroll adds that this fall season's aberrations, including the Olympics, high-stakes baseball play-offs and an eons-long election kept stations and studios from getting a good read on current shows'performances, information crucial to deciding which new shows should be scheduled.

"It's not clear what Columbia is doing, which weeklies Pearson will have. And there has not been a firm go for Paramount's Caroline
. And news on NBC's The Other Half
and Studios USA Domestic Television's Crossing Over with John Edward
came late," Carroll explains. "All of this will contribute to a greater sense of energy and urgency for those who'll be at NATPE."

Plus, syndicators may have to pick up some of the slack for certain dotcom companies, hurt by the recent tech stock nosedive. Johansen has estimated that about 50% of last years' dotcom exhibitors aren't returning for 2001. And some initially committed companies, including Internet technology firm Akamai and interactive TV provider Mixed Signals, have canceled.

"It is disappointing to see the companies go under, but we're still getting a strong presence by that group," says Johansen, pointing out that more than enough new dotcoms are filling any vacant spots. "I think by NATPE 2002 we'll see even more growth. I get the feeling that we have leveled off with the stock market."

But Johansen insists that "dotcoms aren't the new big focus of NATPE. They are certainly a growth area for us. But our main focus, and they'll always be our main focus, are the traditional broadcasters. We will never lose sight of that."

As far as not-to-miss sessions for NATPE-goers, no matter what business they represent, Johansen mentions Jerry Seinfeld's acceptance Tuesday morning of this year's Chairman's Award recognizing his career achievement. While "it would be a great forum," Johansen doubts that the once ubiquitous, now under-wraps Seinfeld will be announcing a new TV project.

Another key session, according to Johansen, is Tuesday morning's "Minority Programming in the Era of Consolidation," moderated by NAACP head Kweisi Mfume. Last year at NATPE, Mfume criticized the TV business for slow progress in diversifying its talent and corporate ranks. Since that time, the networks have installed diversity vice presidents.

"[Mfume] will be saying, 'A year ago, here is what you said, and this is what you said you'd do? 'It will be a report card on what the networks have been doing."

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