Madison+Vine: Hollywood deals revive NATPE

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Branded entertainment may have given NATPE new life.

Although top media buyers are once again largely staying away from the National Association of Television Production Executives conference in Las Vegas that begins today, the annual show is drawing a new crowd of agency executives-those seeking opportunities to meld commerce and content.

"With new and original product, there's an interest in getting in there to check out the opportunities for advertisers to integrate into content," said Bob Flood, exec VP-director of national electronic media at Publicis Groupe's Optimedia "The earlier you get into these things, the better."

Expected to be in attendance are Peter Tortorici, director-programming, WPP Group's MindShare, who negotiated the recent MindShare/ABC programming pact and Laura Caraccioli-Davis, VP-director of Starcom Entertainment. Mark Goldstein, president-CEO of MindShare North America, will participate on a branded-entertainment panel, as will Robert Riesenberg, the chief of Interpublic's Magna Global Entertainment, who was just hired by Omnicom Group to lead their newly formed branded-entertainment unit. In addition, Geoffrey Frost, VP-global marketing communications, Motorola, will participate in another panel on integration.

According to Rick Feldman, NATPE president-CEO, participation of branded-entertainment providers and marketers at the conference is growing. "More and more television will be on demand, so the 30-second commercial will morph into something else. For advertisers, it becomes a creative challenge."

Media buyers once attended to look for deals in syndicated TV properties, but these deals are now being made well before the conference. Many advertisers shifted their attention to the Syndicated Network Television Association conference.

NATPE at its height in 2001 had 1,112 advertising executives in 2001, and last year an estimated 250 advertisers showed. By contrast, about 750 advertisers attended the 2003 SNTA conference in New York, according to organizers.

Mr. Feldman attributes the increase to the conference's return to Las Vegas, and to syndication's general prosperity. Last season, cost per thousands for syndicated shows jumped almost 20%, according to media buyers.

returning to the floor

This year, Mr. Feldman and his team have managed to coax NBC Enterprises, Sony Pictures Television, Carsey-Werner-Mandabach, CBS Enterprises (including King World Productions and CBS Broadcast International) and Universal's Domestic and International Television divisions back onto the floor.

A challenge for creators and distributors of syndicated programming is developing surefire hits to excite advertisers. The top-selling syndicated shows of the last few years were not first-runs, but network series such as "Friends, "Seinfeld," "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Will & Grace."

Mr. Feldman disagreed, pointing to Warner Bros.' daytime talkfest "The Ellen Degeneres Show" as a first-run hit, as well as Twentieth Century Fox Television's "On-Air with Ryan Seacrest." However, he did admit that no sitcoms are on the horizon. "This is the age of reality shows," Mr. Feldman said.

Ben Silverman, CEO of Reveille Productions, the production company behind the heavily advertiser-integrated "The Restaurant" and the upcoming "Blow Out," plans to attend the entire three-day event looking for opportunities. "We are developing a number of programs with advertisers and media firms," he said.

Mr. Feldman for one, however, expresses caution about this budding relationship between production and advertising. "Ultimately, if the agency world pushes too hard on the production world, the production people will say no way," he said. "Mark Burnett will be on board as long as you're not screwing with the program."

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