NATPE continues to operate as a marketplace for linear programming, but it’s also evolved into an opportunity for digital producers and content creation companies to plant the seeds for future programming and marketing partnerships.

“In the past the focus of NATPE was very much on what got sold at NATPE,” says board president Jordan Levin, who will also be attending the Jan. 27-29 gathering in Miami as CEO of Generate, an arm of Defy Media. “The business has shifted and NATPE has embraced a platform-agnostic, media-neutral disposition in and around content as well as a more globally inclusive world view.”

The 2011 move to Miami — after stints in Las Vegas and New Orleans — helped with the global component.

“Because it is so ideally located in Miami it draws a very international crowd,” says Erin McPherson, chief content officer at Maker Studios and a NATPE board member.

While some digital producers may come to NATPE with a fully formed product, for others, it serves as a meet-and-greet. “I think NATPE is less about what deals got done as it is what deals got initiated, who met whom, what conversations started there that led to business,” Levin says.

That fits with the ethos of digital content as a more malleable form than traditional TV. “There isn’t as linear a structure in terms of development, financing, distribution,” notes Levin of digital programming. “It is much more entrepreneurial and there are many more options so you can control your destiny to a greater degree.”

Levin says he’s done deals with large ad holding companies in the past.

“We’ll have some conversations that continue at this NATPE in and around taking formats that either have been incubated on some of these digital platforms or partnerships with independent producers who are looking to develop something in partnership with us,” he says. He also expects to talk with some smaller station groups about opportunities to create custom content as an extension of Defy channel brands.

“In many instances companies are straddling both sides of the fence,” McPherson says. “They’re content rights owners and distributors. Maker is a creator of IP, owns IP, has IP to sell and also has a massive distribution platform both through our network on YouTube and with the purchase of Blip.tv. We sit as buyer and seller and we have conversations that are less about offering a particular slate of programming; it’s more about looking for the right strategic fit and making offerings that are more broad-ranging and allow us to say, ‘How can we engage in business together?’ rather than taking our lineup and selling it pro forma. The conversations tend to be more strategic because there’s more flexibility in the digital realm.”

For NATPE prexy Rod Perth, who was hired in 2012 and added a digital advisory board in 2013, it’s not about fitting digital into the org of old.

“It is a question of us being relevant and completely consistent with the direction and realities of the business, whether it’s production or distribution, domestic or international,” Perth says. “Whatever kind of program you’ve journeyed to NATPE to sell, you are touching and dealing with the realities of the disruption to the existing business models and the tremendous potential of new possibilities that technology has allowed.”