NATPE gets a kick back in its step

Confab walks away a winner in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS — The 41st annual NATPE confab wound down in Vegas on Tuesday afternoon, with most of the 8,000-odd participants giving it a thumbs up after three down years and considerable defections on both the domestic and international fronts.

While lacking in many anouncements or break-out show, business was fairly buoyant, especially Monday on the convention floor and in the adjacent suites at the Venetian Hotel.

National Assn. of Television Program Executives prexy-CEO Rick Feldman was ubiquitous on the exhibition floor during the three-day bazaar, making all-out efforts to keep the mood upbeat and the trains running on time.

“I’d say it’s really promising and encouraging,” Feldman told Daily Variety late Tuesday.

Positive reviews

Judging from comments from an assortment of indie distribbers and Hollywood heavyweights as well as station execs and foreign buyers, the trade show met their expectations and then some.

“NATPE clearly is back on its feet. It worked for me. The right people showed up,” said U.S. indie distribber Jon Helmrich.

“I saw more happy faces than gloomy ones, especially from the station contingent,” said Katz TV’s head programmer, Bill Carroll, who’s a veteran of the syndie trade show. “If the biggest complaint is sore feet, you know the show is a success.”

As for the international contingent, RTL exec August Rinner summed up a common reaction saying he was “absolutely surprised” by how good this go-round was. “I was sure that NATPE was a dying market. Instead I saw a lot more people with really interesting things. This has been a year of renewal, better than the last four years. We are not closing any deals here, but have found it very useful to meet with people to share our plans to fine-tune our discussions for the upcoming AFM.”

There was also general approval of the range and quality of the panels organized by NATPE.

A return to the bustle

Major distribbers who exhibited on the convention floor but spent less this year on outfitting their stands — companies like King World, MGM, NBC, Universal and Sony — were generally pleased with the level of activity though a few thought the noise level was a distraction during private meetings in makeshift screening rooms.

Some buyers still griped that trekking from the Venetian suites to the convention center was an inconvenience they’d like to see eliminated. Fox Intl. TV held court in the Mandalay Bay Hotel at the southern end of the Strip, which, given the lines for cabs in Vegas, became a slog.

But Twentieth Domestic TV prexy Bob Cook said his suites in the Venetian were packed Sunday and Monday, and that it felt like the old days of the bustling syndie biz.

Several domestic syndicators who exhibited in the Venetian suites were seen checking out the convention floor and its accoutrements, Tuesday — perhaps having second thoughts about continuing with the suites next year.

The NATPE board will do a post-mortem on the confab in a few weeks, and is still considering options for the precise timing and venue of next year’s gathering. Most probably: Vegas again and slightly later in January.

Clearances pile up

A handful of firstrun syndicated hopefuls continued to rack up clearances during the market and will almost certainly go on air next fall. They include Paramount’s “The Insider,” NBC’s “Jane Pauley,” Disney’s “Tony Danza,” Universal’s “Home Delivery” and Twentieth’s “Ambush Makeover,” though specifics were not readily available.

Other program sellers also had good news to share:

E! Networks has inked deals with broadcasters throughout Asia for more than 1,000 hours of programming from E! and Style. Encore Intl., Liberty Media’s Asian arm, has picked up more than a dozen titles for its Jiayi block on China Central TV. Greystone TV has pacted with upcoming cable net the America Channel to produce nonfiction programming.

Mexico’s TV Azteca did brisk business with two new telenovelas, closing deals in 10 Latin territories for “Sonoras” (Dreamer) and in five for “The Heiress.”

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