At NATPE: Syndicators eye NY ad confab

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The advertising community-once an afterthought at the annual National Association of Television Program Executives convention-could be the main focus of a new annual gathering in New York.

Several major TV programmers huddled at the NATPE gathering in Las Vegas last week to discuss a conference that would be held in March, closer to the annual upfront market-when advertisers make advance commitments worth billions of dollars to TV networks and syndicators.

attendance in decline

The March show was proposed by Dick Robertson, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution and an outspoken critic of the current NATPE conference, which saw a major falloff in attendance last week as it departed from its traditional format.

NATPE officials were upset that Mr. Robertson raised the issue in the middle of the conference. But syndicators and advertising executives voiced support for the proposal.

"I'm all in favor of that," said Chris Lancey, president-CEO of Western International Syndication. "We need to get access to buyers. Anytime you can have a consolidated presentation, it becomes very efficient for people."

"I'm all for it," echoed Andy Donchin, senior VP-director of national broadcast for Aegis Group's Carat USA, New York. "Just like the networks, just like cable, syndicators need their own week for upfront presentations in March or April in New York. They should do it in hotel rooms so there are no distractions and I can bring more people."

more time

In addition to being closer to the upfront, a March conference would give programmers time not only to cement station clearances but also to produce full-length pilots of new shows and work out production problems. The current conference has been held in January with a focus on station clearances. But those are now completed for many shows in advance, and in fact Mr. Robertson suggested that a second station conference be held in Los Angeles in November.

An advertiser-focused conference would likely be overseen by the Syndicated Network Television Association, which is looking for a new president. Mr. Robertson said the association is considering a number of candidates recommended by a search firm.

in need of overhaul

The NATPE convention is in need of an overhaul. Some 40 program suppliers abandoned the convention floor this year in favor of private meetings in suites at the Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino. Attendees had to shuttle between the convention center and crowded hotel corridors.

"I've been waiting 10 minutes for an elevator," groused David Brenner, an advertising consultant who works with NBC, from the 34th floor of the Venetian. Attendance was down 40%, according to NATPE officials, and the mood of many there was also off.

"It's horrible," said Shelly Hirsch, CEO of Summit Media Group, a New York-based kids' TV media buyer. "When you divide the two sites, it has a major negative effect. We had four station people come by. In previous NATPEs we'd have hundreds."

Mr. Hirsch did announce some big news at the event, a $100 million, four-year deal to provide a Saturday morning kids' programming block to News Corp.'s Fox Broadcasting. But the deal wasn't done at NATPE, and few apparently were.

Sony Corp.'s Columbia TriStar Television Distribution made some deals-but only after making things easier for stations that could no longer afford to pay a cash program license. Columbia eliminated the cash license fee for court show "Judge Hatchett" and gave stations more local ad time to sell. That could be a double-edged sword for stations since local ad sales have been in decline. In two days at NATPE, though, business was brisk, with 70 stations clearing "Hatchett."

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