NATPE Wired for Business

January show to focus on digital delivery

Having a magazine editor deliver the keynote address at the 2007 National Association of Television Programming Executives (NATPE) convention might seem a bit strange. But association President/CEO Rick Feldman says

that the choice of Chris Anderson, editor in chief at tech bible Wired, reflects the increasing importance of content delivery through new technologies.

“It is a mini-statement about where NATPE is going and where the business is going,” Feldman says. “The ice is definitely melting, and everyone knows the world will look a lot different in a few years.”

The giant TV-content convention, slated for Jan. 15-18 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, will carry the theme “Evolve and Prosper.” Feldman says the panel discussions will reflect the rapidly changing nature of the business. “It was never an easy business, but the playbook was kind of simple,” he says. “Now the playbook is a lot more complicated.”

With the rules changing so quickly, Feldman adds, lining up panel topics and speakers a few months out is a growing challenge. Someone scheduled for the panel in November may not have their job come show time—as with former Fox digital chief Ross Levinsohn, who recently left his position. But Feldman sees that as an opportunity for candor. “It's always nice to use people when they are no longer tied to their company,” he believes. “They tend to open up a little more.”

The timing also seems to be favorable for another panel: a chat with Fox reality guru Mike Darnell, moderated by Fox scheduling chief Preston Beckman. Darnell is the man behind Fox's cancelled O.J. Simpson special. Feldman says he won't permit a spin-heavy event: “I am going to talk to Preston and make sure he doesn't avoid the tough questions.”

What to look for

It promises to be a busy four days. The show kicks off Monday, Jan. 15, with the NATPE Mobile++ event, which is produced by Achilles Media and sponsored by InfoSpace. Although the convention is geared toward new media, Feldman says the mobile-video event might not be here for the long term.

“It seems that mobile has taken somewhat of a backseat,” he says. “There is more talk about the convergence of television and the Internet.”

Also on Monday, NATPE's educational foundation hosts a seminar for university professors, which is open to international participants for the first time.

Monday evening, producers Stephen Cannell, Harry Friedman and Anthony Zuiker and NBC Universal executive Bonnie Hammer receive Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards, sponsored by B&C, Multichannel News and Variety.

Among other events is a Wednesday-night roast of Dick Robertson, who recently retired as Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution president to become senior advisor to the Warner Bros. Television Group.

Last year's gathering was memorable for the surprise announcement that The WB and UPN would be shuttered and replaced with The CW network, and NATPE executives expect some news to break this year as well—particularly in the broadband channel space.

“Autopilot” grounded

Show registration in all areas is running ahead of last year. Feldman, who will be attending his 30th NATPE conference, says organizers have expanded the selling time on the floor for an hour on Wednesday and Thursday.

He looks forward to getting attendees up to speed on the latest content trends. After a long period in which the industry was on “auto­pilot,” it's now anything but.

“We are rewriting what we do every year,” says Feldman. “It's not easy, but it's fun.”


Syndication and NATPE

The first-run syndication business is broken. Stations blame syndicators for ignoring their needs. Syndicators stay stations won't invest in their shows. As talk shows tank, studios turn to cheaper game and court shows. With January's NATPE confab just around the corner, can the system be fixed?