New media platforms and merger fallout offer hope

The King World salesmen tore down their booth and left NATPE on Jan. 25. The syndie stalwart had already sold the bejesus out of its Rachael Ray gabber, and with a declared 95% station clearance rate, what was the point of staying in Vegas?

The three-day NATPE confab, which attracted 8,000 attendees this year, has become a still point around which there is frenzied activity both before and after. But with consolidation having reduced the viable players to half a dozen major studios, very little business by these behemoths is actually conducted in situ.

For many, NATPE has morphed into a mental construct.

“It’s become a moment around which execs work: ‘I’ve got to get my programming decisions made before NATPE, or we’ll figure such-and-such out after NATPE,’ is what you hear nowadays,” says longtime syndicator and current producers rep Chuck Larsen. “It’s no longer about decisionmaking.”

Moreover, this was the NATPE of offstage excitement. The merger of the WB and UPN netlets stole the show on the first morning.

It remained for the little guys to persevere on the exhibition floor, picking up whatever shreds of business they could. New media platforms and fallout from the WB-UPN merger gave them hope.

Take the Clever Cleaver Brothers, a pair of zany TV chefs who made their 12th appearance at NATPE.

I asked their manager, Clinton Billups, how many markets the show had added to its 20-odd stable; my question, he said, was “way too last century.”

Seems the Clever Cleaver brand is not just one show but a mosaic of “branding opportunities”: cooking segs on cable, 90-sec high-def inserts for digital signals, VOD clips on handhelds, a satellite feed to health clubs, and “Kitchen Cut-Ups” episodes on video monitors on lightrail and buses.

All of these things are part of the TV mix now.

Meanwhile, syndie vet Dick Perin was still talking to station clients about his reality strip “Cheaters.” Now in its third season, the series tracks husbands or wives who cheat and then films the marital confrontation.

He’s also pushing new reality concept “Personal Bounty” (“You’ve been victimized and the criminal’s jumped bail…” the brochure begins) but, he admitted, there were no takers so far.

“The WB-UPN hookup could be an opportunity down the road, but it instantly freezes business. Stations are saying to call them in a few weeks after they’ve figured things out,” Perin says.

Finally, at another indie booth, Tony Intelisano was talking up his latest find, one Kietta Mayweather Gamble, who did 13 episodes of a gabber on Orlando’s UPN affil and is hoping to get national exposure.

Not that “Real Talk With Kietta” racked up any on-the-spot deals either.

“You don’t just walk in and then walk out with a 90% clearance rate,” Intelisano says. “It’s a process: We worked the market and we have follow-up to do.”

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