Exhibition space downsized to Mandalay Bay ballrooms

The NATPE confab is adapting to leaner times: Plan is to significantly scale down its exhibition floor space for next month’s gathering in Las Vegas.

The exhibition floor for the Jan. 25-27 event will move from its longtime home in the hangar-sized conference space at the Mandalay Bay Resort to several ballrooms in the hotel. January’s confab will mark the last gathering in Sin City for at least two years, as NATPE has made a commitment to hold the event in Miami in 2011 and 2012.

The move to downsize the floor space comes as the major syndie distribs that traditionally supported the confab have opted to do business in private suites at the Mandalay Bay rather than book open exhibition space. The NATPE floor at this year’s confab, which had the misfortune of landing in the thick of the economic meltdown, was noticeably lacking in participation by the majors.

In a conference call Wednesday, NATPE prexy Rick Feldman emphasized that the org’s main focus is getting the distribs and key execs to attend the conference and that whether they’re doing business in a suite or on the floor is of secondary interest.

Feldman also stressed the confab’s unique role in the domestic TV landscape as a central gathering point.

“We’re special because of the disparate elements of the business we bring together,” Feldman said.

Attendance at this year’s event plummeted to around 6,000, down from a peak of more than 20,000 in 2001. Feldman said he expected attendance to improve from last year but would probably not be as high as 2008’s.

Among the speakers for the three-day confab are Shine Group chief Elisabeth Murdoch, Discovery Communications topper David Zaslav, “House” star Hugh Laurie, Bravo exec/host Andy Cohen and Tornante CEO Michael Eisner.

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