When the annual conference of the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) began in 1963, its main purpose was enabling station execs to gather, sample programs from hundreds of small producers and buy shows to fill out their schedules.
Now, 54 years later, NATPE is returning to those roots with an expanded emphasis on local stations during its annual convention, running Jan. 17-19 at the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc resorts in Miami Beach. Last year, the conference hosted only one panel dedicated to local stations; this year, it’s offering an entire track, the Station Group Summit, focused on the local TV business.
“Broadcasting is an important local business,” says Sean Compton, Tribune Broadcasting president, strategic programming and acquisitions and member of NATPE’s board of directors. Compton, Hearst Television’s Emerson Coleman and Fox Television Stations chief Jack Abernethy worked with NATPE to create a more station-friendly environment at the annual event.
“Broadcasting touches the local community every day, it’s still free over the air, and it’s available to everyone,” Compton continues. “We keep talking about all of these new technologies, yet hundreds of millions of Americans still watch TV in a linear fashion. I’m not saying we shouldn’t focus on our future, but we also need to be mindful of the fundamentals.”
To that end, NATPE will offer six panels on local broadcasting on Jan. 18. The day kicks off with breakfast and networking at 8 a.m., leading into a panel with program developers from Debmar-Mercury, Fox Television Stations, Raycom and Tegna. That will lead into sessions on how general managers lead stations in a digital world; how bookers snag the best talent in a highly competitive environment; and how to develop appropriate content for different platforms.
The day will conclude with a State of the Union with panelists Compton along with Mort Marcus, Debmar-Mercury copresident; Deborah McDermott, Media General COO/senior VP; Greg Meidel, Twentieth Television president; and Vivi Zigler, Endemol Shine North America president, digital, brand and audience development.
“I’m really glad to see the Station Group Summit taking place at NATPE,” says Coleman. “For the last few years, a lot of station groups were huddling up in Miami to talk to each other and studios to try to figure out the best way to move forward either together or separately. Our business model has changed dramatically. It’s a really intriguing and interesting time, but it’s also really challenging.”
Beyond the Station Group Summit, NATPE is producing seven other content tracks meant to offer something for everyone in the content industry over the conference’s three days.
New this year is NATPE Music, a subject dear to JP Bommel, NATPE managing director/COO. “Music is such a big part of storytelling and creativity,” says Bommel, who joined NATPE in 2015 after eight years at Reed Midem. “There’s a symbiotic relationship between music and television—look at shows like Empire, American Idol, The Voice and Grey’s Anatomy. A lot of shows are discovered via music, and vice versa.”
NATPE’s music track, which takes place Jan. 17, features artists including T-Bone Burnett, Emilio Estefan and Paul Williams on panels discussing topics such as the role of music supervisors and how to score scripted series and tackle the complex world of music rights.
The conference is reprising its series of “master classes” with notable executives and show creators. Speakers and topics include Modern Family creator and executive producer Steve Levitan on comedy writing; Amazon’s Morgan Wandell on succeeding in scripted TV; and Estefan on how to navigate the music industry.
Other tracks this year include brands and advertising, global TV, content platforms, reality and scripted.
“Covering all aspects of the industry over eight tracks gives attendees a lot of added value,” says Bommel. “It’s really eight conferences in one.”
NATPE also has more happening than sessions, including the opening night and welcome parties Jan. 16-17 and the Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards on the 18th. Bob Saget will host the third annual Reality Breakthrough Awards, with categories including docusoap, factual game, reality and reality competition.
Since the conference moved in 2011 to Miami Beach from Las Vegas, it has become much more of a global content show. NATPE now serves as the unofficial kickoff of the global TV buying and selling season, followed by MIP TV, held in April in Cannes, France, and NATPE Budapest (formerly DISCOP), held in June. This year, NATPE is offering both Chinese and Brazilian pavilions so that attendees can explore programs those markets are producing.
Contraction in the traditional U.S. syndication sector hurt NATPE, so the conference has had to diversify in order to stay relevant, a pattern that will be in evidence this year. Despite only a couple of new national syndicated shows having any Miami Beach presence—a dramatic change from the days of phone book-sized show dailies and arena-filling parties—industry engines will hardly be idle.
“Deals are definitely being made at NATPE,” says Bommel. “You’ve got all of the major studios—not only from the U.S. but internationally—taking suites in the towers, and that’s where deals are happening. Buyers go to Miami explicitly to get their Latin content for the year, and I always hear stories about this producer or this production company coming to NATPE and making a deal with a distributor.”