Sony Says CES is the New NATPE

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Sony Pictures Television (SPT) is in "early, high-level discussions" about shifting its strategy next year to concentrate additional resources and focus on International CES instead of the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) conference, according to a source with knowledge of the plans.

Specifically, SPT plans to leave the NATPE floor in Las Vegas and devote money and manpower to building out its presence at CES and other digital and new-media conventions throughout the year. SPT will abandon its costly booth at the NATPE convention and move to a suite, as such players as Warner Bros. and others have already done, so it can still conduct business at the annual syndication and distribution bazaar. Leaving the floor would generate savings in the ballpark of $3 million for SPT.

"Sony basically wants to use CES as its NATPE next year," says the source. "From a business standpoint, NATPE doesn’t work anymore at the level of investment Sony has given it."

The move makes unique sense for Sony, which could showcase its programs along with its all-important consumer-electronics products.

"All the right people are there anyway now, and from a Sony standpoint, it makes a certain sense," says the source. "And [Sony CEO] Howard [Stringer] would love it. It fits right into his ‘Sony United’ push to get different parts of the company working together."

SPT executives will explore tying the launches of new shows to CES, especially if there are strong new-media components. Sony brass also believes the increasing presence of advertisers at CES leads to writing new business at the show.

Even though Sony is unique among the major studios in being part of a consumer-electronics giant, the move is a sign of things to come, with more media companies considering building up their CES presence as programming and technology become more intertwined. Among the keynote speakers at the 2007 event were CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves and Disney CEO Bob Iger.

Other networks and studios are expected to up their presence at CES next year.

"It’s imperative to be at CES, because the gulf that existed between media and tech a few years ago is slowly coming together," says Nancy Tellem, president of the CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group. "And it’s a recognition that the tech world and the media world are very aware that we both need each other."

Tellem, who attended CES but not NATPE this year, says she is interested to see the increased presence of media companies at CES next year. "It is almost the new NATPE," she says. "I’m not sure what deals get done, but it has become an important place to have deals done prior to it so announcements can get made there."

And as the buzz around CES grows and NATPE becomes a relatively quiet convention (see story, p. 23), Tellem says, she can envision a time when a section of CES is devoted to major media companies that provide content.

"There are people there now talking about original content for cellphones and online," she says. "You can see how it could evolve into that. I wouldn’t