TV convention resets to remain relevant

If Dr. Oz were headed to NATPE, maybe he could throw a tourniquet on the confab that was once a major player on the TV syndie landscape. The patient may be hurting but is currently in stable condition.

To their credit, the folks at the National Assn. of Television Program Executives have readjusted and re-evaluated their confab’s objectives as the TV business has undergone seismic shifts over the last few years. The annual get-together — skedded for Jan. 26-29 at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas — has shifted its focus from a launching pad for the next Oprah to a confab where those making their own programming can learn how to turn their ideas into cash.

“The object of the game now is to take content and monetize that,” says NATPE topper Rick Feldman. “The important thing for us is value and relevance.”

Feldman, like other industryites throwing a huge gathering, has been forced to lower his attendance goals because of a faltering economy that’s wreaking havoc on the travel plans of thousands of TV players. He says he’s anticipating more than 400 buyers and 300 exhibitors to attend, with many having made plans in the final weeks and days leading up to the show.

“We don’t expect attendance to be as great as in the last few years, but we’re not pulling back. We’re going to make sure our value proposition continues to be great,” Feldman says.

His mission: to make sure those who attend feel it was worth the expense. There will be an “emphasis on people making the programs, not the companies that can take a big booth. We want those who have stories to tell.”

Not that he wants to take the Hollywood distributors for granted. Most all of the majors will be on the floor, with CBS Television Distribution joining up with CBS Paramount Intl. after a year away. The exceptions are Warner Bros. Domestic and Intl. Television Distribution, which will be in the suites at the adjacent Four Seasons, and Sony, which continues to feel that the Consumer Electronics Show — which will have taken place in Vegas a mere two weeks earlier — is a better spot for its wares.

Although far less than in the days when King World ruled the confab with the likes of Oprah Winfrey glad-handing prospective affiliates, NATPE still remains a launching point for future syndie stars. From that perspective, Sony’s “Dr. Oz” — a skein many are touting as a likely hit — will be missed, but the flamboyant star of Debmar-Mercury’s “The Wendy Williams Show” will be on hand to get the word out.

She might not need to try too hard, however, based on her successful six-week trial run last summer. “Wendy Williams” appeared on the Fox O&O’s for six weeks and will begin a new run of shows on July 13. She’s currently in 70% of the country going into the convention.

“I took those six weeks very seriously,” says Williams, who also has been a radio personality for decades in New York and will continue to juggle the two jobs. “It’s the culmination of everything I’ve dreamed about.”

Another talker possibly set for a fall debut is “Marie,” as in Marie Osmond, from Program Partners. An announcement is expected on the future of the show at the conference

“T.D. Jakes,” from CBS Television Distribution, was originally skedded to launch but has been withdrawn and is now aiming at a 2010 start.

Though NATPE doesn’t carry the currency of Mip or Mipcom on the international TV side, Latin American program buyers make a point to come to the States and meet with the studios with which they often make pacts.

CBS Paramount global prexy Armando Nunez Jr. says that although budgets are tighter, it’s vitally important to meet the buyers who help fill the coffers of the conglom.

“I’m a big supporter of any venue where buyers and sellers of content come together,” he says. “NATPE has always been heavy in terms of Canadian and Latin attendance.”

Adds Belinda Menendez, topper of international TV at NBC Universal: “We always embrace the opportunity to be with our customers, and the Latin American market is very important for us.”

NATPE, which often used to gather in New Orleans, is now a Vegas mainstay. The org will return there in 2010, but the locale for 2011 is up for grabs. Other cities are being considered, although Las Vegas is still the leading candidate, according to Feldman.

At this year’s edition, keynote speeches will be delivered by Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer and by Tom Rogers, CEO and president of Tivo. Brandon Tartikoff honorees are Chuck Lorre, exec producer of “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory”; actor-producer Tyler Perry; NBC Universal programming chief Ben Silverman; and Anne Sweeney, president of the Disney-ABC Television Group.

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