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NATPE mixes up old and new

First day's programming news slight

The first day of exhibit-floor action at the NATPE confab was a mix of the old and the new.

Tuesday saw plenty of signs of the old NATPE: A Dolly Parton look-alike drew stares from passersby for producers hawking a celeb-impersonator reality show; an animal trainer drew a crowd thanks to the lemur crawling on his hand; the Clever Cleaver chefs were hard to miss in their purple-velvet camouflage suits; and a long line formed outside the FremantleMedia booth for a noontime appearance by Emeril Lagasse.

But programming news from the majors was slight Tuesday. Disney-ABC Domestic TV cleared its action-drama “Wizard’s First Rule,” produced by “Spider-Man” helmer Sam Raimi, on Tribune-owned stations covering 35% of U.S. TV households, giving the show a home in New York (WPIX), Los Angeles (KTLA) and Chicago (WGN) and 16 other major markets.

CBS Paramount Intl. Television said it cinched format sales for “America’s Next Top Model” in Finland, Croatia and Caribbean markets, as well as deals for local editions of “Wheel of Fortune” in Turkey, Poland, the Philippines and New Zealand.

Overall, the vibe on the floor and in the halls of the Mandalay Bay hotel was decidedly serious. Keynoter Jeff Zucker, chief exec of NBC Universal, seemed to set the tone in the ayem with his blunt message about the precarious state of the broadcasting biz.

The future of broadcast in a fast-shifting digital environment was a dominant theme of the confab’s panel discussions. What kind of programming will float on what kinds of revenue streams was the question that seemed to draw the most attention and debate.

Broadcasters will have to shoot for high ratings across as many platforms as possible, not just the usual Nielsen scorecard from one-time airings on a single channel, said Jeff Gaspin, prexy- chief operating officer of Universal Television Group, during a panel sesh with other top programming execs.

“Ratings systems for all platforms aren’t there yet,” he acknowledged, “but they’re coming.”

Herb Scannell, formerly of MTV and now co-founder of Next New Networks, which develops micro-TV nets over the Internet, was optimistic that old and new platforms can peacefully — and profitably — coexist. “New media don’t replace old media,” he said. “They just expand the media landscape.”

Asked by moderator Michael Camacho, packaging agent and head of alternative TV at CAA, whether online ad revenues would always be a matter of pennies compared with the dollars from broadcast, Scannell replied: “Nobody has the right answer right now. The business model is being defined every day.”

But Garth Ancier, prexy of BBC Worldwide America, suggested that the big rivers of revenue from the old broadcast model may be only modest streams in online.

“The most expensive programming in broadcast is primetime scripted programming,” Ancier observed. But with online ad revs unable to underwrite that kind of programming, “you’re not going to be able to make as many big glossy shows as you want.”

Gaspin said developing talent online should be as much a priority as increasing ad revenues. “YouTube has given us a lot of great two- to three-minute videos,” but no talent has developed from there to a professional level, he noted.