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National association of Programming Executives continues to try to evolve the concept of its annual conference from its start as the premiere event for buying and selling syndicated programming.

NATPE hopes to offer a venue that provides entertainment industry executives a forum for cable, Internet, new-media and international sales.

In the past, syndicators such as Warner Bros. Domestic Television and Twentieth Television had been pushing to move the conference to Los Angeles. Some agency executives agreed with the syndicators and others questioned whether the annual event had lost significance.

Lately the criticisms have died down and word on the street attributes the silence to the fact that the NATPE Chairman, Nick Trigony, president at Cox Broadcasting, is an important client.

Insiders speculate the controversy may return.

Meanwhile, others in the industry support NATPE's efforts to evolve.


"The future of this industry is the Internet, new media, and international sales," says Ken Solomon, president, Studios USA Television. "I don't believe that the consolidation of the broadcast industry has made a forum such as NATPE unimportant because our business is not just about selling or buying programming anymore. More than ever, we need a single place where all aspects of the television entertainment industry come together."

For many entertainment industry executives, like Mr. Solomon, NATPE is still "major facetime," a key place to see and been seen. But the reasons why top executives -- and their staffs -- continue coming to NATPE are as varied as the syndicated programming featured for sale on the convention exhibit floor.

"There's quite a lot of value to be placed on the opportunity to meet with the major broadcast companies, the studios, the syndicators," says Allen Banks, North America media director and president-program exchange, Saatchi & Saatchi, New York. "It's where you -- and clients -- get firsthand insight into what's coming up."

Jon Mandel, co-managing director of Grey Advertising's MediaCom, New York, says he'll make it a point to meet with people he doesn't regularly see.

More than 400 companies have signed up to exhibit at the four-day event, including 160 global exhibitors and 60 first-time exhibitors. One of the first-time exhibit- ors is computer chip giant Intel, which has committed to 4,200 sq. ft. of exhibition space, while other new-media giant, Microsoft Corp./Web TV, has bought 3,200 square feet of display/meeting space.

A major growth area for NATPE is international sales. In addition to the pavilions devoted to Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and the U.K., NATPE '99 will have a Korean pavilion on the floor for the first time. Carlton International, Granada Media and Intel will have separate booths.

"Ten percent to 15% of our business is now international, and NATPE is an excellent opportunity for us to both sell our programming worldwide and to launch the E! channel itself outside the U.S.," says Chris Fager, senior VP-international development, E! Entertainment. "This is where we make our most contacts and where we can troll for new prospects," says Mr. Fager. "It's our best chance to meet new customers and find new markets."


The final day of this year's convention is devoted to three Internet-related seminars, primarily targeted to station executives.

The idea, says Bruce Johansen, NATPE president-CEO, is to attract a larger group

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