Small shops feed on NATPE chaos

Changing technologies entice mom-and-pops

While media goliaths like Sony and Warner Bros. have downplayed the importance of NATPE in recent years, the annual confab has become a goldmine of opportunity for small, independent companies.

“NATPE is more relevant than ever because it is no longer just about selling television shows to TV stations,” says Mark O’Brien, president of Mighty Oak Entertainment, which offers “Whacked Out Sports” and “Whacked Out Videos.” “For a small, nimble company like ours, it’s about getting exposure to all these new technologies that are emerging and to look at the big picture: Where is technology going, and how does that relate with what we’re trying to do with our content?”

O’Brien says there’s also the personal element of NATPE to consider.

“I still need to meet the group players who have bought the shows. But there are also small television stations, smaller markets that show up. That’s why NATPE is very important to help promote my business, to meet new players, to obtain introductions to people and to pump my message to the marketplace and to my clients.”

Evolution Media founder Doug Ross asserts that NATPE is cost-effective.

“We can do 30 to 40 meetings in the course of a few days,” he says. “To have to do that over the course of the year — flying to Stockholm, to London, to get work done — would be very expensive and time-consuming.

“NATPE is also more business-oriented. Even though I get more international business done at Mip and Mipcom, all many people do is talk about how hung over they are. At NATPE, people are truly there to work.”

Atlas Media Group’s Bruce David Klein says NATPE’s strength is borne out by its ability to evolve.

“If you look at it historically, NATPE has always reflected the industry,” he says. “In the 1980s, it was about firstrun syndication with over-the-top spending. In the 1990s, it was more about cable, satellite and international markets. Now, it’s very much a digital and multiplatform conference.

“It used to be a simpler, a cleaner, easier business: We need 150 stations to be profitable. Since consolidation, the business is not about selling to stations anymore; classic syndication is not a robust business. Now NATPE is a wild, unruly bazaar, where you meet, greet, sell and buy. It reflects the chaos that is the business — but all in a good way.”

In the end, Klein says, it all comes down to efficiency.

“We’re a multiplatform content company. So where can I go and talk to people in the digital, film, international and television worlds? NATPE is a crossroads of those things. It’s the best place for that.”

Cableready founder Gary Lico says NATPE is relevant both from a business and emotional perspective.

“If America, a country whose second largest export is entertainment, cannot get together at a content convention once a year,” Lico comments, “shame on us, because it is about more than just selling or buying. It’s about community and loyalty and dedication and communication and shared learning experiences.”

Lico’s business reason is more practical. After a one-year absence from the exhibit floor, Lico says he realized the importance of being visible.

“When you are the size that we are,” Lico says, “you want to be seen by as many people as you can. That’s why the floor is so very important.”