NATPE May Draw Crowd But Not Many Leaders

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With consolidation the new world order in syndication, NATPE will never again be the TV bazaar it once was, but it's still the only programming show in the business.

The association won't say how many attendees it expects at the gathering Jan. 18-20, but President and CEO Rick Feldman said last week that registration is tracking on par with 2003's show. That's not necessarily good news: Only 7,000 or so attended the NATPE in New Orleans, when some predicted the show would go away altogether.

"One of the things that everybody told me when I started to plan this was that I would get more late registrations if it was in Las Vegas," Feldman says, noting how easy it is to get to Las Vegas from Los Angeles. "Everyone seems to think we will have more last-minute arrivals."

Attendance has fallen steadily each year since 2000, when turnout peaked at around 18,000.

Some 12 or 13 top executives from the country's major station groups aren't going to be at NATPE this year because the only dates available in Las Vegas clashed with the already scheduled NAB Board meeting in Palm Springs, Calif. But those groups, including Hearst-Argyle, Cox, Post-Newsweek and Dispatch Broadcast Group, are sending their top programming lieutenants.

"It was just unfortunate timing," says Feldman. "Next year, I will actually have some control over when I schedule this convention."

NATPE had already cut a deal with the Sands Expo Center and Venetian Hotel when Feldman took over the job in April, and when terms of the arrangement were hammered out, only Jan. 18-20 was available.

Still, some major station meetings are planned to coincide with the convention, and this year marks a return to the NATPE floor for several syndicators.

Fox will hold a dinner for its owned stations in Las Vegas on Friday night, and the Fox affiliates will meet on Saturday. NBC plans an affiliate board meeting on Sunday, Jan. 18. Last year, CBS held an affiliate board of governors' meeting at the show and is still deciding whether to hold such a meeting next month.

For the first time in three years, several major syndicators will be on the show floor, including NBC Enterprises, Sony Pictures Television, CBS Enterprises and King World Productions, Universal Domestic Television, and Carsey-Werner-Mandabach. Remaining in suites at Las Vegas' Venetian Hotel: Warner Bros., Paramount Domestic Television, Buena Vista, Twentieth Television and Tribune.

What Feldman is particularly excited about are the panels, chat rooms and other educational sessions he and his staff have put together for this show. Last week, NATPE added the "pitch pit," where potential TV producers and writers can get 10 minutes with Hollywood agents and development executives in exchange for a $25 contribution to NATPE's Educational Foundation.

"As long as the syndicators continue to produce programming and be vital," Feldman points out, "then NATPE is vital."

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