Sony will hold its own Feb. meeting

NEW YORK — The four-day NATPE convention in New Orleans, which begins Jan. 20, could face more no-shows because of a new competing assemblage of media buyers and barter syndicators to be held in February in New York.

The Syndicated Network TV Assn., the advertising and marketing arm of the major TV distributors, has rented a group of suites at the New York Sheraton Hotel Feb. 26-27 that will be taken over by SNTA members including the media sales divisions of Buena Vista, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Universal and Warner Bros.

MGM TV also has come on board, although it’s not an SNTA member. The only major not represented is Sony Pictures TV; instead, Sony plans to hold its own meeting Feb. 24 at the Sony Club in New York.

The studios still will send to NATPE the executives who sell TV series to the station groups, but most of the execs who peddle time in these series to Madison Avenue will bypass NATPE for the New York confab.

“NATPE has become less and less of a platform for advertisers and media buyers over the last couple of years,” said Gene DeWitt, head of SNTA.

“New York is a much more convenient setting for me to see what my clients might be looking to buy in TV syndication,” said Bob Flood, senior VP and director of national TV for Gotham-based media buyer Optimedia Intl. “I can’t afford to spend a number of days out of the office to travel to an off-site location” like New Orleans.

And even if the top execs at the media-buying firms were still going to NATPE, Howard Levy, exec VP of advertising sales for Buena Vista TV, said cost-cutting has long since ended ad agencies’ tradition of dispatching a small army of media planners and researchers to NATPE at a massive cost in travel and expenses.

DeWitt said that since up to 80% of the ad-agency media buyers have big operations in New York, it’ll be a breeze for them to send a dozen or more of their planners and researchers to the Sheraton.

By February, most distributors will be firm on which of their proposed new five-day-a-week syndicated series are slated to make it to station schedules in 2003, so the media buyers will be able to get a fix on new shows that fit their advertisers’ needs.

The distributors also will pitch to advertisers at the February meeting any off-network sitcoms or dramas that will kick off their rerun schedules in 2003.

One reason a setup like the February presentation was a must, said DeWitt, is that “syndication was snookered by cable in the upfront of 2001″ because NATPE proved to be an inadequate way to get information about new syndie series to advertisers.

As a result, cable got the jump on advertising revenues for the 2001-02 season, leading to disappointing syndication revs for the first three quarters of the year.

The magnitude of the syndication decline surfaced in Nielsen figures released Monday. While network TV ad revenues climbed by 7.9% for the first three quarters of 2002, network radio by 7.3% and cable TV by 3%, syndicated TV plunged by a dizzying 8.7%.

DeWitt is convinced the New York meeting will allow syndicated TV to elbow its way past cable in the 2003 upfront and transform its big losses this year into big gains for 2003-04.

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