Media agencies hard to find at NATPE meeting

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[new orleans] The beleaguered National Association of Television Program Executives meeting has a future, said outgoing Chairman Jon Mandel, and he believes it could even be a venue where advertisers might return.

"Years ago agency executives went to NATPE-not just to see the barter-sales guys," Mr. Mandel, the first ad executive to chair the event, said, "but to see actual TV producers," which was important for executives to get a better sense of the shows.

But advertisers apparently didn't consider it important this year. NATPE, which annually brings together executives from networks, stations and TV-production companies, witnessed its lowest attendance in recent memory-some 3,000 overall, according to an informal survey of executives-and the lowest attendance by the media-agency community as well.

In years past nearly all the major media agencies attended the four-day event. But at this year's meeting, only three were represented: Grey Global Group's MediaCom, New York, of which Mr. Mandel is co-CEO/chief negotiating officer; Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann, New York; and Publicis Groupe's Starcom Media Group. Executives from pharmaceutical marketer Johnson & Johnson showed up as well.

NATPE has evolved into a much smaller affair, culminating in last year's move by major distributors to give up the convention floor in favor of hotel suites. During the mid-1990s, its heyday, NATPE's attendance regularly reached 20,000.

a small affair

On the convention floor, Hearst Entertainment had perhaps the best spot for the few who came, situated just after the entrance. Rob Corona, senior VP-domestic sales, Hearst Entertainment, said attendance at his booth was about the same as last year. Hearst is offering "Cosmo Girl," a show based on its magazine of the same name.

Though ad-agency-executive attendance wasn't strong, it didn't keep independent producers from pitching new-wave product-placement deals. At a seminar called "Advertiser-Funded Programming: The World View," veteran TV producers and ad executives were cautious about the marriage of content and commerce.

"People watch programming," said Dick Wilson, CEO and founder of ECM Group, and moderator of the event. "They don't watch advertising vehicles."

First-run syndication being offered this year-already well sold to stations-includes Paramount Domestic Television's "The Insider," a magazine spinoff of "Entertainment Tonight"; and Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution's "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and "Sharon Osbourne."

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