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Varying views on Vegas

Some buyers won't make the trip, but others say there's business to be done

LONDON — While some Europeans are enthusiastically journeying to NATPE, others are simply not bothering to make the trek to Las Vegas.

The U.K.’s ITV Network Centre will not be sending anyone. Sophie Turner-Laing, director of film channels and acquisitions for pay platform BSkyB, also is staying home.

“We are not saying no forever but not this year,” she explains. “We have always recognized that NATPE was a good opportunity to view midseason shows, but we did a bumper amount of buying in 2003 and pretty much exhausted our budget for 2004, so our slots are filled. We will be back buying in the early summer at the L.A. Screenings.”

RTL Television’s August Rinner, senior VP of program acquisition and sales, plans to attend, “but it is more because I am already in New York and the journey is not too difficult.” With email, the two Cannes markets and L.A. Screenings, as well as RTL’s scouts sending tapes to Cologne, Rinner says, “The need is not so great.”

On the more enthusiastic side of the NATPE fence is June Dromgoole, controller of program acquisition for Channel 4.

“NATPE has proved to be quite successful for us in recent years. Last year we bought ‘The Michael Essany Show,’ which we had not seen or even heard of prior to NATPE. We love its quirky outlook.

“NATPE has another role for us, and that’s to take a look at second episodes of midseason shows,” she adds. “We would have seen the pilot at the L.A. Screenings, and we always get to NATPE a day early and spend a day in a screening room catching up on everyone’s cassettes.”

The BBC will be back in Vegas, having missed the 2003 show in New Orleans.

“Down at Mipcom some of us met with the senior folk from NATPE, who asked us what changes we would like to see,” says George McGhee, who took over in March as the pubcaster’s controller of acquisitions. “One of my key requests concerned the seminars, which are frequently very good. But unless we know about them well in advance, we usually end up having scheduled meetings that clash. We also wanted the seminars to be absolutely relevant to television and perhaps not concentrating quite so much, for example, on the dot-com area.”

Sandra Ouaiss, head of acquisitions at Canal Plus Group, is another enthusiastic NATPE visitor and says she has two or three shows in her sights. She says NATPE is less important than it once was.

“It is still interesting to have an opportunity to meet with the majors in the middle of the season,” she says. “We have been successful with season two of ’24’ and we launched ‘Taken’ in November. So far, we’re satisfied with the results.”

Canal Plus has bought “Cold Case” and “Rome,” and Ouaiss says they’ll make a good basis for 2004.

Indeed, “24” made pre-holiday U.K. press headlines with a high-profile spat between the BBC and BSkyB. The BBC decided to pass on the third season, allowing BSkyB to step in.

“We are not so sure they’re right,” says the BBC’s McGhee. “I believe the show has peaked. It was a fantastic series, and the question for us was whether we would commit to another 24 hours (of schedule) to watching it in the same way again.”

McGhee says there isn’t a huge portfolio to fill at NATPE.

“Attending NATPE means that there might be something that turns up, as interesting as ’24’ once was, and we can plan it into 2005 because our 2004 schedule is now complete. If there was a good sitcom, we would look at it.”

But McGhee says he is on the lookout for content for the BBC’s two new channels, BBC3 and BBC4, which sit in the multichannel arena.

“We have ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ for example, which is not so much highly watched as highly liked and continually well reviewed. It adds something into BBC4, which is considered a serious channel. There are experimental opportunities on youth-oriented BBC3, and we ran ‘The Bachelor’ and ‘The Bachelorette,’ and perhaps that type of programming will do business.”

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