Confab panel ranges far in covering ground

NEW ORLEANS — The opening NATPE general session was supposed to be about the battle between broadcasters and cable webs for viewers, but so many topics were so quickly touched on that no firm conclusions could be drawn.

Moderated by ABC News reporter Robert Krulwich, the panel briefly took up and tossed out topics as diverse as talent deals and niche cable networks. Syndication, the heart and soul of the NATPE confab, was not part of the discussion.

On the panel were Fox Broadcasting Co. executive VP Robert Greenblatt; CBS Entertainment president Leslie Moonves; NBC Entertainment prexy Warren Littlefield; ABC TV Network prez David Westin (subbing for ABC Entertainment prexy Jamie Tarses); USA Networks CEO Kay Koplovitz; A&E Network programming chief Brooke Bailey Johnson; TNT president Brad Siegel; and Discovery Networks exec Johnathan Rodgers.

One topic did at least get the panelists going: the Nielsen ratings service. Web execs once again reiterated their dissatisfaction with the service’s supposed inadequacies. But A&E’s Johnson said the over-the-air networks only complain when their ratings are down; Koplovitz added that cabler USA has no complaints with the service.

Westin then fired back that the percentage of cabled homes Nielsen measures is, in his view, out of whack with actual penetration. He said Nielsen has in fact said their percentage of cable is too high, probably by 4%.

Shifting to another topic, Krulwich asked Littlefield how much NBC would pay to bring the hit “Seinfeld’ back for a ninth season. Sidestepping the issue, Littlefield would only say the network is “happy to pay for success” and that “the risks cannot be so great that we don’t come out ahead.” He then took a thinly veiled shot at the other networks, saying that what NBC can’t do is pay big bucks before it knows if a show will be successful.

The size of the panel and the number of topics covered made it hard for all panelists to participate fully. There was, however, universal agreement that the recently implemented content-ratings system was the result of political maneuverings, not a cry from the public to be more informed about choices in television.

About midway through the session, attendees started to stream out to hit the convention floor and start buying.

NATPE president Bruce Johansen told the assembly that some 14,500 delegates have registered so far for the con-fab, and he expects the total to hit 18,000 by the event’s end.

NATPE presented its lifetime achievement award to writer-producer Carl Reiner. Upon accepting the award, Reiner paid tribute to producer-agent Sheldon Leonard, who died last week.

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