NATPE 2020: TV Biz Looks Back and Forward as Streaming Wars Ensue

MIAMI — The atmosphere at the annual NATPE conference this year was a bit of old school and a lot of new school.

In keeping with NATPE’s remit as a content market, hopeful stars of new fall talk show prospects pressed the flesh in a flurry of meetings and receptions with station buyers. MGM TV’s promo blitz for Lauren Lake’s upcoming yakker couldn’t be missed with all manner of signage around the conference.

Drew Barrymore made the rounds — and even braved a windy party on the deck of Miami’s Soho House — to express her commitment to making “The Drew Barrymore Show” a success come September.

Nick Cannon, another fall 2020 talk show entrant, couldn’t walk around the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel without being mobbed by fans for selfies. His electric teal suit made him easy to spot in the blend of tourists and TV executives spread around the Fontainebleau’s poolside cabanas.

Inside the conference rooms the conversation was dominated by — what else? — the television industry’s migration to streaming and on-demand platforms. While the stars worked to ingratiate themselves at the retail level of broadcast TV — local stations — executives pondered how the business of making, selling and distributing content is likely to evolve.

“We think a lot about how talent breaks out in this environment,” said Jeffrey Sine, Raine Group co-founder and partner. “The playbook is being constantly rewritten.”

There was much chatter among attendees about the brewing streaming wars and how the competition is playing out so far. Netflix’s Q4 earnings on Tuesday sparked much speculation about how many subscribers Disney will reveal for Disney Plus on Feb. 4 when the Mouse delivers its quarterly earnings report for the last lap of 2019. There was plenty of chatter that the number could be as big as 25 million or more.

The consensus among analysts, investors and executives who spoke at the confab was that the streaming wars will be a costly battle that will inevitably leave some casualties.

Shaid Khan, managing partner of Meridian Advisory Group, predicted that a handful of streaming behemoths like Netflix and now Disney Plus will thrive and narrowly targeted services will prosper if they have the right stuff for a distinct demo. “It’s the people in the middle who are going to get crushed,” he predicted. “There will be the big guys — four to five at most — and a whole bunch of niche players.”

But the growth of streaming doesn’t automatically spell the end of traditional TV, particularly broadcast TV. Sine pointed to a company that largely stays under the radar — Ion TV — that is generating $400 million in earnings before interest taxes depreciation and amortization with a slate that is largely reruns.

“There are swim lanes for different companies,” Sine predicted.

Nexstar chairman-CEO Perry Sook was the belle of the NATPE ball for syndication executives as the leader of the nation’s largest station group. Nexstar’s $4.1 billion acquisition last year of Tribune Media made Nexstar a formidable player in bigger markets, with total reach of 63% of U.S. TV households.

Sook was recognized by NATPE with the inaugural Lew Klein Leadership Award, named for the late co-founder of the National Association of Television Program Executives, who died last year.

Sook used his time on the stage Wednesday to call on the broadcasting business to rally stronger behind the technological innovations that await stations through the adoption of the cutting-edge ATSC 3.0 broadcasting standard. That move is designed to allow broadcasters to greatly increase their channel capacity and ability to distribute information and data directly to regional consumers.

Sook emphasized that broadcasters need to embrace the new standard in order to keep pace with digital and wired competitors.

“If we don’t make this transition we’re going to be an inferior distribution platform with inferior (picture) quality,” Sook said. He called on the industry to work together for the greater good.

Developing applications and innovations powered by ATSC 3.0 “is the single biggest thing the local station industry can do to control its destiny and ultimately prosper, and not just survive,” Sook said.

The theme of disruption extended beyond the conference programming and into the Fontainebleau’s hotel rooms this year. The hotel suffered a massive outage of its computer and network systems on Jan. 16, which led to massive waits at check-in and scrambled reservations as NATPE-goers began arriving a few days later. Rumors flew that the outage was the result of a hack attack on the famed hotel, but that could not be confirmed.

A spokesman for the Miami office of the FBI, which investigates cyber crimes, said he could not confirm or deny that an investigation was under way into the cause of the Fontainebleau’s meltdown. Multiple media representatives for the hotel refused to return multiple requests for comment.

(Pictured: Nick Cannon)

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