NATPE Conference Coverage

NATPE JETTISONS GLITZY SHOW BOOTH STRATEGY

2003 Conference Opens With a New Sense of Frugality

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Adjusting to a sea change in the way its members do business, the National Association of Television Program Executives is dramatically
Past NATPE gatherings have been festivals of elaborate displays and expensive booths. Here, attendees are drawfed by graphics at the entrance to last year's show.

altering the form and logistics of its annual conference.

An event previously famed for excess across a floor of glitzy, $1 million-plus exhibit booths, NATPE is now emphasizing a more economical and less showy approach as it opens its 2003 gathering in New Orleans today.

"I don't think we'll ever see that [million-dollar-plus booths] again," said NATPE President-CEO Bruce Johansen. "That was an outgrowth of an industry that was booming in the last 15 years -- syndication in particular and television distribution in general saw boom years of automatic double-digit increases each year, and people kind of didn't really think twice about spending a couple million dollars on the floor because in the aggregate it really was not a lot of money."

'More intimate conference'
"Things have changed," he said, "and people are much more conscious of how they're spending their money in marketing. There are fewer people now they need to reach. It's a more intimate industry and having a more intimate conference just makes sense."

Headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif., NATPE is a professional association of individuals and companies involved in the creation, production, distribution

NATPE President Bruce Johansen says the days of excess are over.

and financing of TV programming.

At 2002's show in Las Vegas, major syndicators led by AOL Time Warner's Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, abandoned the exhibition floor and opted for the less expensive alternative of hotel hospitality suites. Meanwhile, Columbia TriStar also left the exhibition floor for a hotel suite.

'Hollywood Plaza'
This year, NATPE is officially adopting the same approach. Instead of the old glitter gulch look, the floor of the 40th annual NATPE Conference & Exhibition features an area called the "Hollywood Plaza." The seven major studios have kiosks in the Hollywood Plaza instead of traditional booths. At the kiosks, they can refer potential customers to hotel suites elsewhere in the city where they can hear presentations for the studios' syndicated TV shows.

The companies "indicated that they wanted to support NATPE but they didn't want to go back to the old formula, so we came up with this compromise," Mr. Johansen said. "They will have their hospitality suites and will also have a presence on the exhibit floor in kind of a concierge environment, and they're paying for that so they're helping to support the conference financially."

Potential buyers can use the kiosks to coordinate and make appointments with syndicators before leaving the NATPE

Last year, an exodus of exhibitors to hotel suites from the convention floor forced NATPE to rethink its show strategy.

site to go to a hotel hospitality suite. Adjacent to the Hollywood Plaza is a new "Buyer's Lounge" for those who would rather conduct meetings at the exhibition.

Warner Bros. has a kiosk in the Hollywood Plaza. So does Sony Pictures Television, whose kiosk will direct prospective buyers to a suite at the Windsor Court Hotel.

"Basically, [the kiosk] will inform people where we are going to be at the hotel. [The kiosk] won't be a place to do any business," said Stephen Mosko, president of the Sony TV unit, which Sony Pictures Entertainment renamed last fall from Columbia TriStar Domestic Television. Among its offerings this year at NATPE are the syndication debut of King of Queens and the new eBay TV. The latter, which will have a magazine format, is the first TV foray for the eBay online auction site.

300 still on floor
More than 300 companies are still exhibiting on the NATPE floor, Mr. Johansen said, adding that they tend to be small, independent distributors, international companies and ancillary

NATPE Chairman Peggy Kelly says she is not worried about the rival Syndicated Network Television Association show because of its narrow focus.

companies such as those involved in research. There were 500 exhibitors last year and 860 in 2001.

Attendance is also down from the boom years. NATPE attracted 20,348 attendees in 2001, up 16% from a year earlier and setting a NATPE record. Last year, attendance was half that at 10,125. Attendance for 2003 as of early January was in line with NATPE projections, Mr. Johansen said, with a goal of reaching the same level as 2002.

Possibly stealing some of NATPE's new thunder is the Syndicated Network Television Association, which plans to host an event in New York Feb. 25-26, a month after the NATPE meeting, for media buyers to hear presentations from syndicators.

This first-ever event from SNTA "serves a very narrow focus, just ad sales and just New York ad sales," said incoming NATPE Chairman Peggy Kelly, who's also senior vice president and global client services director for Johnson & Johnson media at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann, New York. "We welcome anything that strengthens the market, but we think it serves a very different purpose than NATPE does."

No spin off
NATPE has rejected the idea of spinning off advertiser or domestic syndicator conferences, Mr. Johansen said, because "one of the key attractions of a conference like NATPE is ... the fact that we bring all those elements together. ... I don't think that we would be successful in breaking those pieces apart."

Still under consideration is changing the timing of future NATPE shows, possibly moving to December but definitely still during winter.

Next year, the NATPE meeting returns to Las Vegas, and that will become the convention's permanent home.

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