Proximity, celebs and Silicon Valley attract

HOLLYWOOD — They’re trading Bourbon Street for the Strip, the Mississippi for Lake Mead and Commander’s Palace for, well … Commander’s Palace.

The folks at the National Assn. of Television Program Executives are taking their annual roadshow to the Las Vegas Convention Center this year after a two-year stay in New Orleans. The 38th annual confab, which runs Jan. 22-25, will have a two-year stay in Sin City.

And that’s just fine with the execs at NATPE who see the move west as a win-win situation. Nothing against New Orleans, of course, but there are many advantages in gathering in Vegas that not many other cities can duplicate.

Attendance figures are up. There are currently 840exhibitors arriving, more than 25% ahead of last year’s pace and there’s reason to think that when this year’s numbers are finally tallied, a few records might be broken.

Among the reasons people are talking up this year’s convention in regard to its move to Las Vegas:

  • Proximity to Hollywood: When the industry gathered in New Orleans, it took an entire day to fly to and from L.A., often having to make connections around the country. With Las Vegas only a 45-minute flight from Southern California’s local airports, one could leave his or her house in L.A. at 7:30 a.m., spend an entire day on the floor and then return home in time for a late dinner.

    “We’ve always had bursts in attendance when we’ve gone to Vegas as production staffs, who are extremely busy at that time of the year, can hop over for a day or two,” says NATPE prexy and CEO Bruce Johansen.

  • The celeb factor: Since the distance is so short, actors can hop a plane, come to promote their show and be back on the set in a few hours. With more celebs attending, there’s more pizzazz to the proceedings.

    “We’re in the entertainment business,” says NATPE chairman Steve Mosko, who’s also president of Columbia TriStar Television Distribution. “All the TV shows have talent, and when they come, it adds energy to the process. Everyone wants to meet the stars, and when buyers are paying a lot of money for these shows, we want to impress them.”

  • Arrival of Silicon Valley: With the close proximity to dot-com land, lots of tech types are also making the trip. Though television buying and selling still dominates the activities, new media companies are coming to NATPE looking to make deals.

    Says Johansen: “Clearly, our growth in new media is dramatic. The fact that we’re closer to Silicon Valley plays a key role.”

  • Such a deal: A round-trip flight to New Orleans from L.A. could easily run up to five times the cost of a flight to Las Vegas. Plus, with such a large number of hotels available, rooms are relatively cheap.

Following this and next year’s trip to the desert, NATPE returns to New Orleans for 2003 and 2004. No city is set for 2005 but Atlanta is being strongly considered. But if Las Vegas is where everybody wants to be, why not have it there every year?

Johansen says it’s not possible, considering that since Las Vegas is the No. 1 convention destination in the country, the city’s convention planners can’t carve out the time or space NATPE needs to put the floor together.

“We can’t get the dates cleared,” says Johansen, who adds the entire physical space needed is approximately 1 million square feet. “When we get a convention center, we have to build a city. We have to start building the booths a week before the convention starts.”

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