Saving Face-Time At NATPE


If it's January, it must be NATPE time. And if it's NATPE time, it must be “this surely will be the last NATPE” rumor time.

Acknowledging the annual topic, NATPE chief Rick Feldman in his opening remarks held aloft a trade publication story from decades ago calling into question the event's relevance. And sure enough last week in Las Vegas, the chatter was there once again as the miserable economy predictably hammered attendance at the confab, much as it had the Consumer Electronics Show just weeks before in the same slumping city.

Many of the people in attendance wondered aloud if this indeed would be the last NATPE, despite Feldman's public assurances that what happens in Vegas every January would stay in Vegas in 2010. The talk on the floor and in the hallways outside of panel discussions on our business (slumping or evolving, depending on whom you ask) was about whether the event would go away completely, come back with no marketplace floor or move to another city, whether Los Angeles or New York.

But while we acknowledge that the need for NATPE as a humming bazaar of television product to be bought and sold has gone the way of the VHS, we hope NATPE—in some form—is here for years to come. And that is for reasons both personal and professional.

For personal reasons, our business is one of fascinating characters, smart people and good friends that have worked together for years, even as we have all rotated jobs from time to time. And with the crunch on all of our time getting tighter as our travel budgets do the same, there are just fewer chances for all of us to get together, belly up to a bar, and swap stories of success and commiserate about these brutal times.

And professionally, that face-to-face is even more crucial, despite our technologically enhanced penchant to replace it with phone calls, e-mail or videoconferencing. How many great ideas, partnerships or business opportunities have come from that chance meeting in a hallway or that last beer before retiring to the hotel room? If in-person encounters are where so many great ideas come from, it has never been more crucial to create as many of those opportunities as possible.

And like NATPE, the economy has meant that attendance at so many of these confabs is under siege. Whether it is trade shows or even the scaling back of upfront week in New York, we understand that the relative importance of these events is falling as the focus on maximizing every dollar is skyrocketing. But that doesn't mean we can't bemoan it, and wonder about the hidden costs to our business and missed opportunities and great ideas that never had a chance to be born because people didn't see each other.

There is no doubt that the syndication business as we know it even before the economy tanked was no longer built around NATPE, and that huge upfront dollars will change hands whether or not the broadcast networks rent out big halls and throw lavish parties in May.

But NATPE's Feldman has done a tremendous job of fighting off the inevitable as long as he can, and we hope he and his board continue to reinvent the conference so that—in whatever form and location—it serves as a meeting place for the television business for years to come. We need all the help we can get right now.