A handful of European broadcasters and syndicators dutifully intone that NATPE offers a chance to pitch product to hard-to-reach buyers from Latin America, Japan and Australia.

But for the most part, buying and selling is way down the list of priorities – and with the soft U.S. syndication market, selling to Yanks is hardly worth a nod.

The real hook, say prospective visitors to New Orleans, is the opportunity to talk co-productions with the largest selection of top U.S. tv execs assembled under one roof.

It’s this juicy prospect (plus the chance to observe firsthand the nuts and bolts of the U.S. tv industry) that is luring a greater number of Europeans than ever to this year’s NATPE. Last year the convention put out the welcome mat to 1,100 non-Americans. This year that number will swell to 1,300, and Europe is expected to account for the bulk of the increase.

For some execs, NATPE is now on a par with the three Riviera markets. “I would cut back on some of the other markets before reducing my presence at NATPE,” says Andrew Macbean, head of U.K. distrib ITEL, which chiefly reps product from Anglia TV. He’s bringing a crew of six, compared with three last year.

One advantage is the “good quality time” available with co-prod execs from PBS stations and cable networks, says Macbean. “At Monte Carlo and MIP, these executives are much more hassled for time.”

According to Peter Lord, who represents NATPE in Europe, it’s not only Europeans who are keener to discuss co-productions with American producers and broadcasters. “These days, Americans are eager to meet with their European counterparts.”

French fielding fine force

Lord says France in particular will be strongly repped, thanks to a decision by the French Union of TV Producers (USPA) to commit to a 220-square-meter stand.

Some 27 production and distribution companies are availing themselves of the USPA umbrella, largely because it will cost them “significantly less” than if they rented individual stands, says USPA general secretary Alan Modot.

Robert Nador, of indie production outfit Dune, says the USPA move is designed to make Americans more aware of the existence of Gallic producers.

Nador feels an advantage of NATPE is that it gives the French a unique chance to get to know the American market, discover new marketing techniques, find out about syndication and see shows that never travel to Europe.

“It’s also a chance to pick up concepts and program formats,” he says. “The problem has been that the other key markets are on our doorstep in the south of France, and that means French producers get their experience of U.S. television mainly through American salesmen there.”

Guilhaume De Verges, acquisitions head at private web TF-1, says he will attend so that he can follow trends in Yank cable and syndication. He voices a commonly held French belief that co-production talks will expand as the Yanks seek to offset production deficits.

At producer Tele-Images, topper Herve Michel says NATPE offers the opportunity to talk co-production business and see Latin Americans who can’t afford to make the trip to Europe. Tele-Images will use NATPE to talk to Group W Prods. about made for tv films and miniseries for their joint venture Futur-Images.

The British are coming, too

The Brits will be fielding their traditional strong presence on the convention floor (except BBC Lionheart, which for the second year running is holding court at a nearby hotel). As usual, ITEL, Yorkshire TV Intl. and Central Television Enterprises will share a stand, while Granada and London Weekend TV will take separate booths.

For two British broadcasters, NATPE offers a chance for a “family get-together.” Thames TV will huddle with execs from its Reeves subsid (acquired just prior to last year’s meet), while Telso/TVS will confer with the staff at MTM, a TVS holding.

Like most Europeans, the Italians are going to NATPE to keep in touch with the American market, scout new trends and develop new production relationships, rather than to buy or sell. “If you are really serious about working with Americans, NATPE attendance is a must,” says one Italo observer.

Toppers of the three RAI networks are attending: Carlo Fuscagni for RAI-1, Gianpaulo Sodano for RAI-2 and Angelo Guglielmi for RAI-3. Buyers include Giuseppe Cereda (RAI-1) and Claudio G. Fava (RAI-2).

Over at Silvio Berlusconi Communications, New York-based buyer Daniele Lorenzano will attend, as will Riccardo Tozzi (head of production) and Giuseppe Proietti (head of foreign sales).

“NATPE is a very interesting market for us. It’s a place where European companies can meet U.S. cable operators, syndicators and pay-tv people. It might not be worth it for every European broadcaster or producer, but it’s definitely worth it for us,” Proietti points out.

However, some Europeans have decided NATPE is not worth the time or expense. Bengteric Nordell, veteran acquisition topper of Sweden’s SVT Intl., says he used to go to watch trends of upcoming U.S. product, but NATPE now is followed too quickly by Monte Carlo.

Jennifer Clark in Rome, Michael Williams in Paris and J.R. Keith Keller in Copenhagen contributed to this report

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