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This year's National Association of Television Program Executives convention was planned with a special target in mind: advertising agency executives, who would be lured to the annual syndicated TV confab through seminars and networking opportunities.


By all reports, the deliberate attempt to market NATPE to ad agencies has paid off. Through December, 433 agency executives had registered for the convention-up from 292 at that point for last year's show.

These agency folks all will be looking for insight into what's hot for the 1997-98 TV season and where their clients might fit in.

"More than ever, NATPE is about programming content," says NATPE President Bruce Johansen. "Advertising plays a prominent role .*.*. in whether programming succeeds or fails."

The primary purpose of NATPE still is the sale of syndicated programming to TV stations. But in the last few years, NATPE has evolved into something more akin to a major ad industry summit, where agency media buyers and advertiser executives review new programming, cut early media deals, and discuss sponsorships and partnerships for programming alliances with producers and distributors.

In short, NATPE is the place to see and be seen.


"If you're going to be taken seriously as a player in this market, you have to be at NATPE," says Allen Banks, exec VP-executive media director, Saatchi & Saatchi North America, New York. "We do get insight into new syndication properties, we can see what is out there and what makes sense for us and our clients to be in."

"Being able to see the new product and getting a first hard feel for it-that's why we go," agrees John Muszynski, senior VP-executive director of the national TV buying group at Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. "In one place, we can meet with the syndicators and producers as well as talk to local TV station executives who can give us the best feel for what's really hot in their markets. "

An indication of how important NATPE has been for some agencies is that a few agency executives continue to come even after they've retired from the business.


Dick Hobbs, exec VP-worldwide media director of Leo Burnett USA, who retired in December after 35 years, this year paid his own way to New Orleans.

"This is one of the most exciting industry conferences to attend, and it's one where work, where business, actually gets done," says Mr. Hobbs.

The working atmosphere is what appeals most to Betsy BurMr. Kager is convinced other sitcoms coming down the pike will perform as well as "Seinfeld" has.

But other observers say that despite the success of "Seinfeld" and "Home Improvement" in syndication, it's unclear how many other network affiliates will jump into the sitcom pool.

"I think affiliates are going to be very slow to spend a lot of money on off-network shows because it's not clear they can make their nut back over the life of the show," says Tim Duncan, executive director of the Advertiser Syndicated Television Association. "Yes, off-net shows come with a proven track record, but not all off-net shows succeed."


Mr. Duncan notes that "The Cosby Show" drew record prices in syndication but

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