Foreign broadcasters are descending on the NATPE convention in record numbers this week, more than making up for the falloff in domestic participation. The 28th annual gathering kicks off officially in New Orleans on Jan. 15.

“The global television community is really opening up,” says Phil Corvo, president of NATPE. “International companies are charged and ready to go for all sorts of new coproductions and coventures.”

A total of 277 companies – a record – have rented booths on the exhibition floor of the convention center, compared to 230 last year, Corvo says. The bulk of this increase, he adds, is from foreign exhibitors – there were only 53 in 1990, and this year there’ll be 93.

The trend is similar in paid registrations. The total of 4,900 people paying for their registration credentials is about 200 fewer than last year at this time. But of that 4,900 figure, 1,144 are foreign paid registrants, a record.

Corvo cites at least three reasons for the decline in domestic attendance at this year’s NATPE. “First, there’s the economic recession in the country at large,” he says. “That has caused executives at a number of smaller stations to postpone their trip.

“Second, there aren’t as many firstrun programs being offered by syndicators,” meaning that fewer domestic distributors will be leasing floor space.

“The upfront money that’s necessary for a domestic producer to launch a show is not there as readily as it used to be,” Corvo continues. In the current economic climate, “the smaller companies can’t afford to take the kind of risks needed to get a show produced and marketed.”

Corvo’s final reason for the domestic slowdown is that even some of the big-city stations won’t be sending representatives to NATPE because “they’ve already committed to the programs they need for next fall,” both in renewals of their longrunning shows and in purchases of the few new series looking for deals.

“Partners in Programming” is the theme of this year’s NATPE, says the 1991 chairwoman Vicky Gregorian, whose fulltime job is program director of WHLL, a UHF indie in Worcester, Mass. “My regular soapbox speech is that in this awful economic climate all of the different facets of the broadcast community have to come together,” she says. “We can’t afford our old adversarial, us-versus-them mentality.”

Gregorian expects a lot of conversation, both in formal panel sessions and in informal corridor crosstalk, to center on programming ventures between station groups and distributors in the marketplace for 1991-92.

The barriers even have to start coming down between broadcasters and their traditional bitter enemies, the cable operators, she says.

This trend is already happening, she continues, with tv stations using cable channels to broadcast repeats of the local newscasts and even material not used by the stations (like a full night of election coverage). As Gregorian puts it, “The lines of demarcation are fading.”

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