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NATPE 2020: Bumpy Start But Business Is Humming as Conference Begins

MIAMI — A technology meltdown at Fontainebleau Miami Beach made for a bumpy start to getting settled at NATPE for numerous executives and producers who arrived here over the weekend. Nonetheless, the core business of the content-sales gathering was humming as numerous distributors reported new deals and renewal pacts inked over the past few days.

The storied hotel’s computer network began suffering what the Fontainebleau’s general manager described as “significant outages within our computer and network systems” starting on Jan. 16. The annual conference and trade show hosted by the National Association of Television Program Executives runs Jan. 21-23, but numerous executives spend the weekend before at the hotel for private meetings and family excursions — it is, after all, a trip to Miami Beach in January.

On Sunday numerous NATPE-goers reported experiencing extremely long waits to check in — “The line was out the door into the lobby,” reported one executive from L.A. — and at least a few instances of scrambled reservations.

The major U.S. studios and content players from around the world set up shop at the hotel this week by booking suites in the Fontainebleau or space on the trade show floor to hawk their wares to a mix of domestic and international buyers. The Miami location of the conference — which is marking its 10th consecutive year in Magic City — not surprisingly insures a large contingent of Latin American content buyers. NATPE in recent years has averaged around 5,000 attendees.

NATPE president-CEO JP Bommel said on Monday afternoon he was confident that the hotel had the situation well in hand. Some who checked in early Monday still had to write credit card and personal information out by hand. On Monday evening, a letter was slipped under the doors of conference-goers from Fontainebleau VP and general manager Mary Rogers that offered an apology and a $200 “resort credit” valid at any outlet on the property.

After “engaging specialists,” the hotel’s systems began to be restored by Jan. 18 but the shutdown still left staffers with “a very manual process for check-in that caused extensive delays at the front desk over the weekend,” Rogers wrote. “I want you to know that what you may have experienced is wholly unacceptable and I’d like to sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this has caused.”

Representatives for the hotel did not return requests for additional comment on the cause of the outage.

On the business front, it was clear from conversations overheard in elevators and in the lobby that attendees came here to shop. There’s no shortage of outlets in need of high-end content, which is why the majors continue to have a presence at the event even if times have changed dramatically.

Nexstar Media Group, the station colossus that absorbed Tribune Media’s 42 stations last year, has been hammering through a slew of renewal deals this weekend as the newly enlarged station group works to integrate the Tribune outlets into its mix.

Lionsgate’s Debmar-Mercury is having a busy year with the launch of a talk show strip fronted by Nick Cannon and an innovative weekend entertainment magazine show “Central Ave” from producer Will Packer, which promise to tackle pop culture buzz and lifestyle trends from a socially conscious point of view. Debmar is also representing the rerun rights to “Schitt’s Creek,” the slow-build cult fave comedy series that is in its final season on Pop TV.

Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios unveiled renewal deals for five court shows that air in broadcast syndication and on his company’s wholly owned cable channels, which include the court show-fueled JusticeCentral.TV.  “America’s Court with Judge Ross,” the company’s first gaveler, is heading into its 11th season. Also renewed for the 2020-21 season are “Justice For All With Cristina Perez,” “Supreme Justice With Judge Karen,” “Justice With Judge Mablean” and “The Verdict Wtih Judge Hackett.”

CBS Television Distribution’s digital multicast lifestyle network DABL confirmed it has reached carriage deals covering 90% of U.S. TV households just four months after launch. The channel will add library shows from Gordon Ramsay and other titles from recent deals with ITV Studios and All3Media International.

FilmRise, the New York-based indie, has cut a deal with Comcast’s Sky Studios and Discovery UK for a multi-part true-crime documentary series “Bloodline Detectives,” focusing on the role of family DNA in crime solving.

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