NATPE broadens syndication horizon

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The National Association of Television Programs Executives is betting on a dose of digital media to revive its January meeting, which kicks off next week in Las Vegas.

The agenda, heavy on panels outlining emerging media, mobile and digital rights management, is actually a bit of a return for the meeting. In 2000, NATPE turned its focus to new media, but old-line syndicators thought it detracted from the main goal of selling shows into syndication.

"Now everybody has realized that syndication or cable or network or online is just the utility that delivers [the content]," said Jon Mandel, CEO of Mediacom and a former conference co-chair. "It's turned into a real content show."

Adds Rick Feldman, president-CEO of NATPE: "The word syndication has changed into a much broader word than it used to be."

Part of NATPE's function will be to allow new distributors such as broadband and telephony companies to meet the content providers-groups that never before had to know the other's business. Said Deborah Bothun, entertainment and media advisory leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers, who's leading a panel on convergence: "I'd get a call from a studio saying, `Give me telco 101."'

The gathering in recent years has floundered as the industry consolidated and other groups, most notably the Syndicated Network Television Association, muscled in on its territory. But this year, according to conference organizers, attendance is pacing 10% ahead of the same period last year.

Conference organizers are quick to describe that the changes to the conference are reflections of the marketplace and not a ploy just to goose attendance.

"First and foremost it's still the home for syndication," said Steve Davis, president-mobile media, InfoSpace, and event co-chair. "But NATPE continues to remain relevant if it tracks the path of changes in the media and entertainment industries." Until three months ago, Mr. Davis was president of Granada America; today he heads up a mobile-media company.

More media buyers

Media-buying agencies attending the event include PHD, Mediacom, Zenith, Carat and Magna Global. That number is up from 2003 when only a few agencies attended. Group M CEO Irwin Gottlieb, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Media CEO Mark Rosenthal, ZenithOptimedia CEO Tim Jones and OMD CEO Joe Uva compose a panel titled "The $8 Billion Men."

"We're certainly interested in hearing about new technology, what will be out there," said Harry Keeshan, exec VP-national broadcast buying at PHD. "We're interested in the latest in mobile TV and how producers are addressing it."

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