Syndication executives, accustomed to taking center stage at the Promax/BDA convention, are having to share that spotlight this year with the organization's new "in crowd": the dotcom players.
Promax/BDA is just doing its job (Internet-TV convergence is today's media "it" concept), but the group's shifting focus may have contributed to scaled-back attendance by some conference regulars.
Two major station groups, Tribune Broadcasting and the Sinclair Broadcast Group, are significantly reducing the number of people they send to New Orleans for this week's gathering of marketing and design professionals. Tribune confirmed it has invited syndicators to unveil their show-launch campaigns (the traditional core of Promax/BDA) in Los Angeles a few days after the convention.
A spokesman said the station group was not dissatisfied with Promax/BDA's convention but wanted to "speak [with syndicators] about issues specific to Tribune." Sinclair could not be reached for comment, but one executive told a studio marketing vice president that it was "not financially advantageous" to attend as a group.
With fewer heads to turn, some syndicators don't feel the need to trek to Promax/BDA with their usual fanfare-convention-floor booths or splashy marketing workshops. "It's always good to be able to meet [at Promax/BDA] with our stations face to face," noted Yelena Garofolo, Warner Bros.' senior VP of corporate marketing and advertising services. "But we also have to acknowledge the fact that attendance by the station groups is down."
This year, Warner Bros. will instead host a hospitality suite to generate buzz for its new off-net series Suddenly Susan and The Jamie Foxx Show and first-run shows Moral Court and Street Smarts. But as a backup plan, "we've set up meetings/workshops with station groups here in L.A. to get them involved in our promotion activities," said Garofolo.
Matthew Pugliese, Twentieth Television's vice president of advertising and promotion, predicted the problem wouldn't "clear up" on its own.
"I think there will be an advantage to stations in going in order to bone up on technology," he said. "But at the same time, if stations continue to pull out, we're going to have to re-evaluate the purpose of going for ourselves."
Still, Twentieth will be on hand, throwing a party for its station clients to promote the fall launch of its new court entry, Power of Attorney, and the second season of Divorce Court.
A number of syndicators are looking forward to Promax/BDA's ramped-up online presence (the organization's new full-time president, Glynn Brailsford, has introduced 'e-sessions,' Web-related workshops to be offered at every conference time interval). Studios USA is searching for a new-media sidekick to help promote Arrest and Trial. Pearson Television's game entry To Tell the Truth will sprout an Internet arm, and King World's late-night freshman, The Cindy Margolis Show, stars a Web-made celebrity.
"Our biggest leap is in the [Internet arena]. But we're not just chasing new money," Brailsford insisted. "It's staying ahead of the curve of where TV is going. We're not discarding our heritage, but we're enhancing it. Working in the era of enhanced TV, we're putting on an enhanced conference."
As to the decrease in station attendance, some station executives cited the money factor, not the Internet explosion, as the main reason for not going.
"It makes sense that Promax, like NATPE, is evolving [to include new-media companies], but everybody is looking at expense. You have to," said CBS Television Stations Vice President of Programming and Marketing John S. Moczulski.
"A lot of people, I hate to say, in senior management don't see the value of sending their promotions people. [They see the conference as] just one big party," said Carsey-Werner Senior Vice President of Creative Services Dan Weiss.
Another studio executive offered: "There's [also] concern over employees being recruited by rival companies. They're paying them to set up interviews with others."
Even so, "[Promax/BDA] shouldn't forget the core business of how it got started," said Susan Kantor, Studios USA Domestic Television's senior vice president of advertising and promotions. "I think that they need to beef up fresh ways of presenting the basic information."
Both Kantor and Weiss are serving up new Promax/BDA sessions that they hope will reel in stations the "old-fashioned" way.
In "Syndication Indication," Kantor will reveal the sales tactics of some programs debuting in the fall, information normally kept from competitors, who'll be colleagues during the workshop.
Carsey-Werner-sponsored "Air Freshener: Keeping Good Programming From Going Bad" will provide stations with tips on how to turn around their ratings-challenged shows.
Tips on how to promote an image-challenged show are likely to come out of Paramount's Dr. Laura workshop, the show having been hammered by protests and Procter & Gamble's pullout.
"If [advertising issues are raised], we'd do our best to answer them," said Michael Mischler, Parmount Domestic Television's executive vice president of marketing, adding that "we will unveil how we're going to market the show. [Stations] will see all the spots and see how we'll pick up new audiences in daytime and early fringe time periods."
In addition to the Dr. Laura effort, Mischler will hold workshops for the off-net launch of Spin City and third season of Judge Joe Brown. "We might be the exception to what everyone else is doing," said Mischler. "If they're scaling back, we're going full bore."
King World is also doing it up big at Promax/BDA, with six marketing sessions slated (a combined one for veterans Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, individual ones for Oprah, Inside Edition, Hollywood Squares and newcomers The Cindy Margolis Show and Curtis Court).
"There's room for both approaches [hospitality suite vs. a formal presentation], but when you have some of the largest shows in syndication, you want to get the community jazzed about what you've developed for the coming year," said CBS Broadcast Enterprises Executive Vice President Bob Cook.
Promax/BDA, 82 exhibitors/142 booths strong and on track with last year's numbers, will also feature a Universal-led Blind Date workshop and a Pearson-steered To Tell the Truth workshop. New Line is throwing a bash for The Lost World and Columbia TriStar will host a hotel suite for first-timers Sheena; talk vehicle Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus; and court series Judge Hatchett.