NATPE: An international bazaar

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It seems the National Association of Television Program Executives annual conference is turning into the equivalent of an international bazaar. In fact, some now consider it the "conference of record" for producers wanting to sell to Latin American broadcasters.

More than a third of the 445 registered exhibitors attending next week's conference are from 90 countries including 17 from Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries such as Chile, Mexico, Portugal, Uruguay and Venezuela.


For broadcasters and syndication companies eager to do business with overseas clients, NATPE is becoming the industry convention not to miss.

"NATPE is a very important market for Latin America, and we see buyers from the region attending in large numbers," says Barbara Bellini-Witkowski, director of sales, Channel 4 International.

Latin America "is an area -- particularly Brazil and Argentina -- that has grown in [need of programming for] cable and satellite channels," says Ms. Bellini-Witkowski. "New channels, especially on satellite, have been launched in the last three years, creating a market for English-language programming. It has become more interesting to work on pan Latin American deals that syndicate programming around the entire region."

"International companies remain fascinated by everything American," agrees Allen Banks, executive VP-media North America, Saatchi & Saatchi, New York. "NATPE is a great marketplace to come to because of all the international interest -- a fact that has not gone unnoticed by some of the big entertainment companies, like MGM."

Growth for Latin America is also measured in terms of the space the Latin American companies occupy. Mexico's TV Azteca, for example, moves this year into a 1,200 sq. ft. space from 600 sq. ft. last year.

By late December, NATPE had commitments from 300 international exhibitors, the same as in 1999, but NATPE executives expect to top that number by the time the convention begins.

"The international growth has been phenomenal," says Bruce Johansen, president-CEO of NATPE. "We estimate that 25% to 30% of all the activities now taking place at NATPE are international in scope, whether it's buying or selling of programming."

U.S. looks to sell

"U.S. companies really may not buy a lot at NATPE, but they certainly see NATPE as a place to sell," says Les Margulis, senior VP-international media director, BBDO Worldwide, New York. "It's a good way to gauge the market [and] to watch what international companies are selling to each other."

New international exhibitors include Media Park from Spain, Sports World Media Group from the U.K. and CanWest Entertainment's Fireworks Entertainment from Toronto.

"It's one of the best opportunities we have to meet with a large number of clients and potential clients," says Greg Phillips, president of Fireworks' London-based International division. "It's a good way to start a new year, and it's coming at a time when [buyers] are looking for fresh ideas and new shows."

Executives are eager to showcase several of Fireworks' newest action-adventure programs including "Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda," a new sci-fi action hour set in outer space starring actor Kevin Sorbo, star of "Hercules: the Legendary Journeys." Distributed by Tribune Co.'s Tribune Entertainment, "Andromeda" already has clearances in 87 markets domestically representing 80% of the U.S. and 48 of the top 50 markets.


Fireworks execs hope to use the interest in "Andromeda" to capture people's attention at its booth and gear up interest in some of its other programming that has not thus sold as well.

At NATPE, Fireworks will push TV action adventure series shows such as 18th century period-piece "Queen of Swords," in which a lady fights for justice in old California, and "Relic Hunter," an hour-long adventure a la "Indiana Jones."

Fireworks will also push "18 Wheels of Justice," starring model/actor Lucky Vanous. Mr. Vanous, best known for making a group of women swoon as he removed his shirt in a Diet Coke commercial, will portray a law enforcement officer literally on the run in a big rig. He's trying to avoid the minions of a mob boss who killed his wife and family.

"There is a strong appetite for programming developed here in North America, and all indications are that broadcast buyers around the world are very happy to purchase and schedule this programming," Mr. Phillips says.

There will be 12 international pavilions at NATPE representing Belgium/Switzerland, Canada, China, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Korea, the Netherlands, Spain, and U.K.


A sign of successful selling at NATPE is when a syndicator leaves the pavilion and moves into its own space. Channel 4 International left its spot this year in the U.K. pavilion for its own 2,000 sq. ft. exhibit area.

The company plans to unveil an extensive list of new programs and movies, says C4I's managing director, R. Bernard Macleod. On the list are "Cinderella: The Movie" starring Kathleen Turner, the miniseries "Anna Karenina," and "Bruce Lee: Tale of the Dragon," a movie based on the actor's life. One comedy series is "Spaced," a lighthearted look at the perils of modern life for two young roommates posing as professionals.

"We have enjoyed an extraordinary increase of business and co-production activities in Europe and America, and in doing so, need to further build our presence within the global television community," says Mr. Macleod. "Our inaugural booth at NATPE is one of the significant steps we are taking to accomplish this."

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