In a word, the Syndicated Network Television Association's conference this week is as much about being relevant to its audience as are the efforts of the National Association of Television Programming Executives to revive its own January event.
The prize for both groups is to keep powerhouse syndication advertisers such as Procter & Gamble Co. and their agencies focused on syndicated TV.
At the same time, the differences are clear: NATPE looks to clear syndicated shows with TV stations, though vendors also showcase their content for agencies. SNTA, meanwhile, aims to sell marketers and their media shops on syndicated programming.
How these groups approach the ad side of syndication will be crucial to their future. NATPE already was grappling with a couple big problems last year when SNTA decided to move forward with plans to hold its own conference for advertisers. Attendance at NATPE was lagging, and vendors were abandoning the exhibition floor for less expensive hotel suites. SNTA held its inaugural event in New York, and this year will have additional conferences in Chicago and Los Angeles.
Complicating the situation is the fact that both groups have new chief executives. Rick Feldman last spring succeeded Bruce Johansen as NATPE president-CEO, and SNTA early this year named Mitch Burg to succeed Gene DeWitt as president.
"The purpose of the SNTA day is to set up a platform for our members to show the strength of their product," Mr. Burg says. The group's membership consists of major syndicators such as Viacom's Paramount Advertiser Services and News Corp.'s Twentieth Television.
Where NATPE plays out in Las Vegas, SNTA's focus on three major ad industry markets has struck a positive chord with media planners and buyers, says SNTA Chairman Howard Levy, who's also exec VP at Walt Disney Co.'s Buena Vista Television Advertising Sales.
Others agree that with budgets down and spending tight, it's important to keep dealmaking close to home. More than 450 attendees are expected at the New York event.
SNTA will provide a forum to educate advertisers and media planners about upcoming shows, says Andrew Donchin, director-national broadcast with Havas' Carat USA. In the past, few advertisers attended NATPE, and fewer still were the media planners who could afford the time away from the office, says Mr. Donchin, who skipped NATPE this year with the intention of hitting SNTA.
While many of the available syndicated shows already are common knowledge, Mr. Donchin hopes to learn more about new offerings, and how to get the most bang out of what he calls an underappreciated product.
"We've bought a ton of syndication in the past, but syndication often gets the short end of the stick," he says. "This is a good way to prove there's a middle ground between network and cable. This is a good forum for us to know over a day's time what syndicators have to offer and figure out how to employ syndication to our best advantage."
The consolidation of the syndication ad sales industry has resulted in ongoing communications between vendors and media buyers, says Aaron Cohen, exec VP-director of broadcast media at Horizon Media, New York. To Mr. Cohen, that makes NATPE's seminar-packed, educational approach less critical. But the opportunity to meet and learn about actual product offerings remains an important benefit of NATPE.
However, after years of attending NATPE, Mr. Cohen skipped the event this year and only sent one person in 2003. Conversely, he'll have 15 people at SNTA in New York this week, getting done what he needs to in less time with no travel costs. No Horizon staff will attend the Chicago or Los Angeles SNTA events.
While NATPE gets the earlier slot on the calendar, some industry observers see an advantage to the SNTA events coming six weeks later. Syndicators will have more and fresher insights on their offerings at the later events, Mr. Cohen says. SNTA "will provide a marketplace in short order," he says. "This gives me an opportunity for a much more in-depth and focused look at the programming that might be available for my clients."
That points to the original rationale for the SNTA conferences, says Marc Goldstein, president-CEO of WPP Group's MindShare North America. Mr. Goldstein had four people at NATPE and plans to have scores working at all three SNTA conferences. He calls that in-depth access a "major advantage" for implementing advertisers' media plans.
The lag time between the two events provides better information on product and clearances, insights on what's returning, and a chance to make a more informed buying decision for September, Mr. Goldstein says.
But while SNTA is rich with one-on-one conversations about specific program and marketing opportunities, he believes NATPE will also remain in the mix for media buyers. "There is ample justification for both organizations," he says.
SNTA's conference is "an opportunity to see as many people as you can," Mr. Levy says. Moreover, the audiences are looking for different takeaway from the SNTA and NATPE events, he contends. "It's not a competition. There's no way NATPE can accomplish the same things."
VENDOR SETUP CHANGED
Despite its renewed energy and panel discussions, NATPE still has its work cut out for it, Mr. Levy says. "Rick [Feldman] has to do something there to make it relevant to my constituents," he says. "If he makes it relevant to my clients and my clients are there, then the whole convention is meaningful to me."
Mr. Feldman hopes that in an age of growing media outlets and marketing opportunities, NATPE's relevance is poised to rebound. The January event attracted slightly more than the 7,100 who attended in 2003, according to association figures. NATPE in 2004 bowed to the movement of exhibitors off the floor and into hotel suites by offering such setups to vendors. Some 290 booths were positioned on the floor of the Sands Expo Center, with some 60 suites in the nearby Venetian hotel serving as home to dealmaking as well.
International syndication and attendance remain strong at NATPE. Upwards of one-third of attendees were from the international market, Mr. Feldman says.
The need for more focus on gaming and DVDs is apparent, as well. Where the money used to be in domestic syndication, other media are emerging. "We're following those streams," he says, "though none are as strong as domestic syndication of the 1990s."
Mr. Feldman's goal this year was to create a positive atmosphere in the organization "after the last couple of years, which had been difficult for everybody on a lot of different levels."
While some agency executives have replaced NATPE with SNTA on their must-go list, Mr. Feldman says the two play dissimilar but complementary roles. SNTA "is really about sales," he says. "We're about programming. We're about network, syndication, spot, satellite, cable-wherever programming runs."
Mr. Burg also believes synergies exist between the two organizations and that they can work together. But despite optimism spurred by this year's NATPE, Mr. Feldman knows the "old days haven't returned, and the old days are not going to return."
SNTA's 2004 spring conferences: