Jessell at Large

NATPE Has A New Lease on Life At 50

After celebrating hitting the half-century mark with its annual convention in Miami, the trade association is on the right track in reviving itself from the low point in its fortunes in 2001. NATPE is an important, if not vital, date on the broadcasting calendar. It's the place where syndicators and their broadcasters get face time and finish up the important deals. Maybe it was the fine weather or that ocean breeze, but no broadcasters or syndicator I spoke with had a negative thing to say about NATPE this year aside from mild logistical gripes. You got the clear impression they would all be back next year and for as long as they had programming to buy or sell. Happy birthday indeed.
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I'm learning to love NATPE for what it is — not for what it was or what it could be.

What it is is a great place for sellers and buyers in broadcast syndication to conduct their business. Every syndicator with whom I spoke at the conference this week had a full dance card, filled with broadcasters they needed to see about taking a new show or renewing an old one. Broadcasters, too, told me that they were busy getting deals done.

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For me and our programming reporter Kevin Downey, it's perfect for catching up with the executives to tease out some news or spot programming trends that can be converted to future stories.

That the conference works so well is a function of the venue, the Fontainebleau Resort in Miami Beach. It's the perfect hub for a conference of NATPE size (5,000 plus). If you hang out in the cavernous grand lobby long enough, everybody you want to see (and some you don't) will happen by.

And there is plenty of room in the Fontainebleau complex and in the adjacent Eden Roc and Soho Beach House for anybody interested in hosting a suite or a suite of suites.

NATPE organizers have finally tamed the elevator problem. At most times, you could get up the tower suites without having to stand in long lines. (So, why was I hustled into a freight elevator when I visited the Sony folks in their roof top suite on Tuesday afternoon?)

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This year, the weather — a mostly sunny 80 degrees with occasional blustery wind — was good enough to allow much of the business and meeting-and-greeting to be done outdoors, either at the poolside cabanas where CBS, NBCUniversal and Debmar-Mercury set up shop or in the penthouse suites favored by Twentieth and Sony.

Altogether, the Fontainebleau and Miami Beach represent a huge improvement on the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Las Vegas, where NATPE was mired for several years prior to the move east for the 2011 show.

The entire broadcasting industry now understands that NATPE will never again be what it once was — an annual warm-weather (New Orleans was always best) coming together of what seemed to be the entire broadcasting tribe. It peaked during the Internet boom in 2001 with more than 20,000 attendees. I think that was the year Roger King hired Elton John to entertain virtually everybody at the Superdome.

At those events, broadcasters clearly ruled. Nobody could attend and not come away with the conviction that broadcasting was still the beating heart of the television. For all the fuss about cable and satellite, they were still wannabes. Digital video? Still mostly a science experiment.

That NATPE the old timers fondly remember was a victim of industry consolidation, lessening demand for syndicated programming and the two recessions of the 2000s that caused T&E budgets to disappear. Station group discovered that life went on even if they didn't send all their GMs off to New Orleans or Las Vegas.

Over the past few years, NATPE has settled into its current scope and scale. It's really three conferences mashed together — the syndication conference I've been talking about, a Latin American programming conference and a new media conference. At the wrap-up press conference on Wednesday, NATPE's new president Rod Perth said that two-fifths of the speakers were from digital companies.

For me and I think the domestic broadcasters in Miami Beach, the Latin American programming and new media conferences are just so much background noise. They are simply not interested in what's going on in Latin America and they haven't time for digital panels and speakers that are not speaking directly to their digital needs.

I used to argue that NATPE needed to come up with new ideas for attracting more broadcasters. But now I'm not so sure that it could or should.

As it is, NATPE is an important, if not vital, date on the broadcasting calendar. It's the place where syndicators and their broadcasters get face time and finish up the important deals. Maybe it was the fine weather or that ocean breeze, but no broadcasters or syndicator I spoke with had a negative thing to say about NATPE this year aside from mild logistical gripes. You got the clear impression they would all be back next year and for as long as they had programming to buy or sell.

I spoke briefly to Perth and he mentioned that he wants to make the show more relevant to broadcasters and bring more into the tent. To do that, he will have to stretch the scope of NATPE beyond programming. He will have to create a program that addresses broadcasters' particular interests in new media, news or sales.

With the success of its summer Station Summit for creative services directors over the past two years, PromaxBDA has shown that broadcasters will attend a show with a targeted agenda and where real business is done.

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Ratings

Overnights, adults 18-49 for September 28, 2016
  • 1.
    2.8/10
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    1.9/7
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    1.7/6
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    1.4/5
  • 5.
    0.6/2
  • 6.
    0.4/1
Source: Nielsen

Reviews

  • Rob Owen

    Easily fall’s best broadcast network comedy pilot, NBC’s The Good Place offers a clever high-concept premise that’s complemented with intelligent, sometimes absurdist humor. Created by Michael Schur, co-creator of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, The Good Place is a highly serialized series that’s essentially set in heaven and stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. NBC made five episodes of The Good Place available for review, and the show not only holds up, but also it improves, deepening characters that initially feel one-note and frequently leaving viewers guessing with cliffhanger endings to many of the episodes. The combination of snappy dialogue and winning but flawed characters makes The Good Place a great bet for fans of smart TV comedy.

  • Maureen Ryan

    Pitch has swagger, for good reason. It gets the big things right; the Fox drama about the first female baseball player in the Major Leagues is one of the year’s most assured and exciting debuts. But part of what impresses about the pilot is also the way it confidently strings together so many small but telling details. Ginny (Kylie Bunbury) is the first woman to be called up from the minors to the big leagues, and no show since Friday Night Lights has done a better job of portraying the internal and external pressures that weigh heavily on young athletes asked to do much more than merely succeed on the field. Pitch will likely do a good job of getting viewers to root for it. The hope is that the show won’t be an impressive, short-lived curiosity, but rather a long-term phenomenon.

  • Kevin Fallon

    In a fall TV season that’s already making a splash for championing diverse, distinctive voices in an array of projects that they created, wrote, and starred in, Better Things on FX stands out. The show is created by, written by, and starsPamela Adlon. She plays Sam Fox, the single mother of three daughters modeled after her own reality-show-ready experience raising three girls in Los Angeles following a divorce. Sam is also, like Adlon, a working actress — on shows both raunchy, a la Californication, and animated for children, like her role on Recess. It’s a refreshingly blunt take on single motherhood without sacrificing the warmth of parental love, portraying the dance between selfishness and selflessness that’s at the heart of being a parent — especially one weathering the hormonal fireworks of a household of four women at different ages.

  • David Wiegand

    The fall TV season doesn’t count as much as it used to — we already know that. But no matter how many retreads the broadcast networks throw at viewers in the next few months, this fall will be memorable because of the premiere of Atlanta on Tuesday, Sept. 6, on FX. The half-hour comedy created by and starring Donald Glover (Community), simply and brilliantly recalibrates our expectations of what a TV comedy is and how black lives are portrayed on the medium.

  • Louisa Ada Seltzer

    The second reboot of the 1980s John Candy movie Uncle Buck, bumped by ABC from midseason, has the same tired jokes you'll find on any second-rate sitcom. Too bad, because Mike Epps is appealing and ABC would be wise to keep him around for future shows, but there’s just not enough to this show to suggest it will last past summer. It also airs against NBC’s America’s Got Talent, summer’s No. 1 program on broadcast, which may make it even harder to find an audience.

  • Neil Genzlinger

    Bryan Cranston brings his Tony Award-winning interpretation of President Lyndon B. Johnson to television in an adaptation of the Robert Schenkkan play All the Way, and it’s still quite a sight to behold, just as it was on Broadway in 2014. Nothing beats witnessing this kind of larger-than-life portrayal onstage, of course. But the television version, presented by HBO, offers plenty of rewards, allowing Cranston to work the close-ups and liberating him from the confines of a theater set. Cranston’s performance is a gem — in his hands, this accidental president comes across as an amazing bundle of contradictions, someone who seems at once too vulgar for the job and just right for it.

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