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TV syndication giants such as Warner Bros. and MGM Worldwide Television Group are pushing strongly to move the National Association of TV Programming Executives' annual conference to Los Angeles -- permanently.

The move would save the big syndicators millions of dollars on plane tickets, hotel rooms and other travel-related expenses, as well as their massive booths that dominate the trade show floor.

The syndicators also want the opportunity to pitch programs and entertain clients on their own turf.


While agency executives say they don't care where the conference is held -- some wonder if the annual event has lost significance.

"A bigger issue is the relevancy of NATPE for advertisers," says Peter Chrisanthopoulos, senior partner and president-broadcast and programming at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York. "It seems to have lost some of its appeal in the last few years. We see so many of these people here in our offices and most deals are done after" the show.

"But they're making an effort to be more meaningful, recognizing that agencies and advertisers are an important part of the mix. If they can pay that off, it makes sense for us to continue to go," says Jon Mandel, senior VP-director of national broadcasting, Grey Advertising, New York.


Other agency executives voice strong positions on moving NATPE to the West Coast.

"It belongs in Hollywood, where entertainment basically comes from," says Jean Pool, exec VP-North American media-buying services, J. Walter Thompson USA, New York.

The issue flares because syndicators around the country argue that relocating the gathering would give the West Coast syndicators an unfair competitive advantage.

It would appear NATPE has taken sides with the smaller syndicators, at least for now.

"By far, the majority of people do not like the idea of L.A.," says Bruce Johansen, president of NATPE. Mr. Johansen says he expects to host about 18,000 people this week in New Orleans. The large syndicators "are very important and we certainly don't turn our back on their interests, but we have to consider everybody else."

Mr. Johansen says the association will continue to explore the Los Angeles option, however.

"Going out of town to places like Las Vegas and New Orleans and building these mammoth exhibits is absurd and a great waste of money in our opinion, and we would like to see a more sensible way of doing things," says Dick Robertson, president of Warner Domestic TV, whose programs include "Rosie O'Donnell Show" and "Murphy Brown."

According to Mr. Robertson, Warner Bros. could save more than $1 million if NATPE were to put down stakes in Los Angeles.


"NATPE wants to maintain this huge infrastructure," says Mr. Robertson. "And, as long as the big companies want to keep doing it, it'll keep going."

Warner Bros. tried to avoid the 1998 NATPE show altogether by renting out several floors of a New Orleans hotel. The plan failed after NATPE, which had a lock on the city's accommodations, refused to release rooms.

Mr. Robertson says he has talked with top people at other big syndication companies about setting up their own trade show. Some have expressed interest, while others are more cautious.

"The other companies don't seem to share our enthusiasm about cutting costs," says Mr. Robertson.

"It's not like we have this vendetta, but all companies right now are having to take a look at the amount of money being spent on conventions and sales meetings, and on the amount of money it's costing companies to properly market their shows," says John Symes, president, MGM Worldwide Television Group.

MGM sells drama series such as "Fame L.A." and "Poltergeist," as well as the new "Meshach Taylor Show." MGM surprised many last year by sending only its international sales staff to NATPE. It will keep its domestic team at home this year, too.


Other syndicators say the NATPE conference will continue, with or without the big boys.

"The watchword of any industry convention has to be neutrality," says Richard Perin, president-CEO, MG/Perin, which specializes in such niche programming as the children's series "Homer's Workshop" and the public-affairs show "America's Black Forum."

Mr. Perin wonders why the major studios don't just cut back. He says he'll spend about $100,000 this year, compared with the many millions the studios lay out.

"The real issue is whether or not NATPE is a necessary forum in which to conduct business," says Mr. Symes, who points out that MGM goes to this year's show with a number of key programs already cleared in three-fourths of the country. "I don't know whether NATPE is best serving all the studios that participate."

While it inks the lion's share of its domestic deals outside of NATPE, Mr. Symes admits that MGM relies on the show for its international business.


"We don't make any sales at NATPE that we wouldn't make anyway," seconds Mr. Robertson.

He says the main benefit of attending the conference is to unveil a late-breaking program -- which only happens every few years.

Mr. Robertson describes NATPE as "a big schmooze and there's nothing wrong with that."

NATPE's Mr. Johansen counters that "a huge number" of deals are signed at the show.

Ms. Pool thinks the larger syndicators, with their deep pockets, will have a leg up on whether NATPE meets in Los Angeles, New Orleans or Timbuktu.

"Big," she says, "will always have the advantage."

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