Johansen answers NATPE critics

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Bruce Johansen says he isn't worried.

A day after a number of top Hollywood syndication studios threatened to pull out of NATPE because it's become too costly and unproductive, the conference's top executive said he's heard this all before and that he expects it to be business as usual next year at NATPE's 39th annual meeting.

"Of course they will be back. They always will and they always have," Johansen said. "Will they be back in their current capacity. Maybe not. And if it's not efficient I would be the last person to encourage somebody to come here if it isn't efficient. Clearly 861 companies think it is efficient and are coming back."

On an ALTV panel Monday evening, executives from Warner Bros., Carsey-Werner, Studios USA and Paramount charged NATPE no longer is a domestic syndication selling conference and expressed their concerns, in no uncertain terms, about the financial hit they take each year bringing stars, sales people and mansion-sized booths. The syndicators all said it costs them between $2-3 million every year to set up shop at NATPE.

"This is clearly a line in the budget that has long outlived its usefulness," said Warner Bros. Domestic Television President Dick Robertson. Carsey-Werner's Bob Raleigh added, "There is a good chance that we won't be back as an exhbitor just because it's ridiculous."

Johansen says NATPE is actually the biggest trade show conference in the entertainment industry, costing just $12 per square foot of convention floor. He says MIP and NAB charge upwards of $80 and $50 per square foot respectively.

"I love the figures I see thrown around. Where is that money going?" Johansen asked. "Let's look at where that $2-to-$3 million is going. The actual booth space cost here is miniscule. That's not where the money is going. It's going to limousines, parties and shrimp in the booths. I've never told (the studios) to have parties or anything like that. If that's the way they want to do business that's fine. That money does not flow to NATPE. That money is flowing to all of those other areas."

Johansen didn't talk to executives as of late afternoon Tuesday, but said he intends to before NATPE folds its tent Thursday. He acknowledges, however, the conference would take a good hit if some of the major studios were to pull out of the conference. But Johansen adds, the organization is a non-profit business. "NATPE is here as a facilitator to allow people in the industry to communicate with each other. If the studios come back with smaller booths and are more efficient, I'll be thrilled."

This week's NATPE will set a record for attendance, with well over 20,000 registered guests walking the floor. The number of international exhibitors and attendees are also at all-time highs and new media companies continue to flock to NATPE, Johansen says. In terms of NATPE being a first-run, domestic syndication conference, he acknowledges that consolidation has changed the way stations buy TV programs-but NATPE provides other opportunities.

"This is no longer the most efficient way to sell a TV show to 80,00 general managers. The business just isn't done like that," Johansen says. "This is now an opportunity for people in the industry to convert and talk about convergence, this is the ultimate convergence opportunity."
- Joe Schlosser

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