SNTA Splits Its Show Into Three

Annual parleys will be held in New York, Chicago and L.A. next year

The search for a new president to run the Syndicated Network Television Association continues, and the group's chairman, Howard Levy, hopes to have the job filled by next March when SNTA will hold its second annual conference.

Actually, next year, three will be three conferences: The main event will take place March 11 at the Grand Hyatt in New York, followed by smaller gatherings in Chicago (March 15-16) and Los Angeles (March 18).

SNTA organizers coordinated the timing of next year's conference with the Association of National Advertisers, which every year at about the same time holds its well regarded Television Advertising Forum.

The two groups agreed to schedule their conferences a day apart to make it more convenient for attendees to go to both. The ANA ad forum will be held a day earlier (March 10) at New York's Marriott Marquis.

Levy expects attendance at the New York conference to be in line with the 800 or so people who attended this year's conference. Those that attend the Chicago and Los Angeles events will be gravy, but he said he couldn't estimate what that attendance might be at this time.

As for the search for a president, "we're still working on that," Levy said last week. "We actually have a bit of luxury in that the people who are in place—more specifically [research director] Hadassa Gerber and [marketing and sales director] Andrea Cautela—have done a fabulous job."

SNTA, funded by most of the major studios, helps sell advertisers on buying into syndicated shows, from Entertainment Tonight
to Dr. Phil
and off-net programs like Seinfeld. The organization has tried to raise its profile at the same time the convention held by the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) has fallen on hard times—in part, syndicators say, because it became too expensive for exhibitors.

SNTA has been without a president since July, when Gene DeWitt left after serving just a little over a year of a three-year contract that reportedly provided an annual salary of around $600,000. Lawyers still haven't negotiated a settlement of the contract, sources said last week. DeWitt couldn't be reached for comment.

Levy wouldn't comment on the DeWitt situation but insisted it hasn't slowed SNTA down. "The organization has moved on. We have this issue that's sitting out there certainly, but we haven't stopped."

Veteran ad sales executive Rick North is reportedly a candidate for the post. He is currently consulting for Court TV and several other clients on advertising and marketing activities and was previously involved with AccessHealth, which provided health-related programming in physicians' waiting rooms.

Before that, he was a national ad-sales executive at Turner Broadcasting Sales and earlier served a stint with Tribune Entertainment. Reached last week, North declined to comment on the status of his talks with SNTA.

Client feedback led SNTA to decide to hold three separate conferences next year to pitch its programs to the advertiser community. "We surveyed attendees after last year's show and basically received, on a scale of 10, an 8.5 or a 9," said Levy. "So this year we're doing the fine-tuning that we think will get us to a 10."

Other differences this year will be a one-day affair in New York instead of two. Clients, at their request, will be making their own appointments with syndicators instead of having SNTA schedule everything.

Next year's conference-ending party will be a little more show-bizzy, with as much talent from TV shows as the program sellers can persuade to attend.

At least one more non-SNTA distributor will participate in next year's confab: Byron Allen's Entertainment Studios. MGM-NBC Media Sales, another non-member, which participated at this year's conference, will return next year as well.

"For us on the ad-sales side, it's the big event of our industry," said Chris Kager, president, MGM-NBC Media Sales. "To get in front of all those clients and advertisers in a really small period of time is just fabulous. It worked very well" in February. Kager noted that the company will participate in all three conferences next March.

Buyers echoed those sentiments. "First time out, I thought they did an excellent job," said Tom Decabia, then-executive vice president, PHD. "It was a great learning process for our staff."

Levy, head of ad sales for Buena Vista Television, said that, as last year, the conference is open to SNTA member syndicators and non-members alike.

Non-member Sony Pictures Television, he added, has indicated that it will not participate again. Sony sources say the company is planning its own event next year to be scheduled around the same time as the SNTA New York conference, as it did this year. Details weren't available at press time.