Facing Up To Future

The growing international flavor of NATPE has made the event a crucial meeting place for Canadian companies, all of which rely heavily on international sales to boost their bottom lines.

“We find that our distribution end does a lot of their European business there,” says Kevin Sullivan, president of Sullivan Entertainment, which produces “Road to Avonlea.” “It’s an important place to meet European buyers. As Canadians with international partners, it’s an important function to attend to keep the flow of product happening and keep them apprised of what we’re doing.”

Canada’s major TV webs such as the CTV Network and the Can-West Global system don’t buy all that much syndicated programming, but executives from these networks still find NATPE useful. It’s an occasion to meet face-to-face with their U.S. suppliers, start thinking about purchases to fill next year’s sked and size up the syndicated market.

“It gives us an opportunity to see what the lay of the land is for syndicated programming in the U.S.,” says Arthur Weinthal, veepee of programming at CTV.

Weinthal also uses NATPE to continue discussions with U.S. distribs about shows CTV will pick up. Those discussions usually carry on up to the L.A. screenings in May.

The Can-West Global system attends NATPE with a similar outlook. “It’s a place to touch base with our suppliers and just get a handle on what the U.S. supply scene is going to be like,” says Doug Hoover, national programming vice president, Can-West Global. “But most of our acquisitions are done at the May screenings.”

This year’s NATPE convention will be crucial for Montreal-based production company Telescene Communications, which lenses the syndicated series “Sirens.” Telescene picked up the rights to “Sirens” after it was canceled by ABC and Telescene is almost finished shooting the first 22-episode season of the drama. All American Television distribs the show outside Canada.

Telescene prexy Robin Spry hopes to know by the end of NATPE whether “Sirens” will be renewed for another syndicated season.

“We will find ourselves talking directly to the station groups. You can get direct feedback from the end users. It’s become more and more important for Canadian producers because it’s easier to access the syndicated market than the network market.”

Atlantis Releasing, the distribution arm of Toronto-based Atlantis Communications, will be bringing a heftier contingent than usual to NATPE, including some of its European sales staff.

“We’ve noticed that NATPE is increasingly becoming a major international event,” says Atlantis Releasing prexy Ted Riley.

“NATPE is becoming like a huge supermarket event – everyone’s there and there’s all kinds of cross-pollination going on. But it’s a soft-sell kind of market for us.”

NATPE has always been a key market for Nelvana, but the get-together takes on an added importance this year thanks to the Toronto-based producer’s recent move back into the firstrun syndicated arena. Nelvana, is set to produce “Nancy Drew” and “The Hardy Boys,” two live-action series based on the popular books, and New Line Television will be handling the U.S. distribution. “Nancy Drew” and “The Hardy Boys” will be Nelvana’s top priority at NATPE this year.

“It’s a re-entry into syndication for us and we’re looking at doing a lot more syndication in the next couple of years,” says Nelvana chairman Michael Hirsh. “I think it’s a lively area at the moment.”

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