Col TriStar joins NATPE floor flight

TV p'gramming event 'will clearly be a different-looking conference'

Columbia TriStar TV Distribution, one of the biggest supporters of the NATPE convention, surprised the syndication industry Tuesday by reversing its decision to remain an exhibitor on the floor of the January convention in Las Vegas.

CTTD is the ninth major domestic distributor that’s opted to move off the floor of the annual TV confab’s 2002 edition, which will take place Jan. 21-24 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Decision represents a major blow to the National Assn. of Television Program Executives’ confab, as CTTD was one of the biggest TV players still committed to exhibiting.

NATPE’s plight has been shared by many trade shows lately, as traditional exhibitors feel the pinch of economic downturn and consolidation. The California Cable TV Assn.’s Western Show in Anaheim next month, for example, has seen more than a dozen major exhibitors opt off its floor (Daily Variety, Sept. 30).

Distributors have cited many reasons for pulling off the floor of NATPE, including economic concerns and waning attendance of clients. In addition, continuing national security issues have precipitated feelings of concern about convention plans.

While NATPE exhib floor dropouts began in the spring, starting with Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution and followed by Carsey-Werner-Mandabach’s domestic operation, the number of those bailing has increased in recent weeks. Last week, Twentieth Television and Studios USA Domestic Television said they would forgo their usual booths. The week before that, Universal Worldwide TV and Paramount Domestic TV pulled out. Buena Vista TV and King World Prods. decided earlier this fall not to exhibit.

The vast majority of the companies not exhibiting do plan to participate in the convention; most have booked hospitality suites in nearby hotels to meet with clients. CTTD said it is exploring all of its alternatives.

Moving to hospitality suites allows distributors to save one-third to one-half the amount they spend to mount their traditional booths. In recent years, exhibitors have expanded their presence on the floor to the point that some companies spend north of $2 million at NATPE, which generally runs about four days.

While exhibitors have expanded their exhibits, many also have questioned for years the cost-effectiveness of hauling staff and resources to the confab, saying they make too few deals and forge too few relationships to justify the expense.

Other possible dropouts

The industry was buzzing Tuesday that NBC Enterprises, Tribune Entertainment and FremantleMedia (formerly Pearson) may also opt out of their exhib booths. That would leave MGM Worldwide TV Group and New Line Television repping the domestic syndication business on the NATPE floor.

While both companies do syndication deals at NATPE, neither MGM nor New Line launched a domestic firstrun syndie strip this season or last. And locking up deals on strips is one of the biggest reasons syndicators attend NATPE.

NBC declined to comment, but insiders said the company is working closely with NATPE to determine how best to remain involved in the convention in light of recent events.

A spokeswoman for Tribune said that the company is exploring all of its options in terms of exhibiting at the convention.

Joe Scotti, prexy of distribution and marketing for FremantleMedia North America, said his company needs to rethink NATPE. On Tuesday he still planned to exhibit on the floor.

A different kind of confab

NATPE prexy-CEO Bruce Johansen said in a statement Tuesday that NATPE 2002 “will clearly be a different-looking conference.”

“However, we are thrilled to have continued strong international and ad executive support. We are in constant dialogue with those domestic distributors who have opted to maintain hospitality suites off the exhibition floor about supporting NATPE in other ways and are encouraged by their willingness to do so,” the statement noted. “No one has indicated they are not supportive of the NATPE conference, which is very heartening. I view NATPE’s role now as one of facilitator so that all attendees, be they buyer or seller, will enjoy a positive and productive experience.”

Mosko, in a statement issued Tuesday, maintained that NATPE is important to the “unity and growth of our industry. The unique circumstances of this year, however, now force us to make a hard decision based on hard reality.

“We remain supportive of NATPE and its purpose, and will work with the organization as it defines itself for the future,” Mosko said.

Reassessing the situation

Fremantle’s Scotti said in light of the developing situation his company can’t help but continually monitor which station representatives and which of his competitors will be on NATPE’s convention floor and/or in hotel suites.

“Given the recent events of this and last week — decisions of our competitors, major suppliers of programming and sponsors of NATPE, further compounded by the poor economy, the worst advertising season in history and the current state of our country and the world — it should not be surprising that we need to reassess the situation,” Scotti said. “We are going to be in Las Vegas, with new programs to sell and existing shows to renew, and I’m confident we’ll complete a significant amount of business. … We made the decision to be on the floor; we have space reserved; and we have contingency plans in case we had to modify.”

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