Int'l contingent prepares to converge at NATPE

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The international TV brigade appears to be echoing a big "ole" for this year's annual NATPE confab in Las Vegas, set for Jan. 16-18.

Word is that the appointment books for international sales execs at the studios are beginning to fill up as the conference grows closer ... though most leading executives say they are still taking a wait-and-see approach, at least as far as the Europeans and Asians are concerned.

The big TV conference underwent a major drive in the late 1990s to give it more of an international spin. It always has been a favorite market for the Latin American buyers and sellers as well as Canadians. But the challenge was to get the Europeans and Asians interested. For a time, some impressive contingents were arriving from France, Germany, the U.K. and South Korea.

But when the syndication business went through its retractions and the confab was reduced in size, the international presence also went into retreat. That trend might be reversing itself to some extent thanks in large part to the efforts of NATPE president Rick Feldman. He has been traveling around the world to promote the show to the international contingent.

His message has been simple and to the point: "You need to see how it all holds together and how the biggest market in the world is producing content and what it is exporting and importing. You need to hear about the new outlets, the new channels, the distribution streams that are out there."

The effort has not gone unnoticed among international TV studio brass, who have been praising Feldman for his work in bringing back the international aspect of the event.

NBC Universal is bringing a full international team as well as organizing an event with the cast of NBC's "Heroes" for overseas buyers.

It's fair to say that some of the other top sellers are waiting to see if the turnout from Europe and Asia will be as impressive as hoped for. Marion Edwards, executive vp international at 20th Century Fox Television Distribution, says one of the issues for many Europeans and Asians is the fact that the conference is so short -- 2 1/2 days. For many, that may be too short a period for doing business to make the long hop over from another continent.

"I think we'll be taking a fairly conservative approach as far as Europe is concerned," Edwards says. She notes that her division will definitely look for international deals on new shows including FX's "The Riches."

CBS Paramount International Television president Armando Nunez says he is taking "about the same sized" team for Canada, Latin America and Europe as last year. But he echoes Edwards' thoughts about NATPE being a useful market for midseason sales. "I remember when we launched 'Numbers' two years ago as a midseason show. We launched it on a Monday, and on Tuesday morning we had ratings data. ... By the end of the convention we ended up talking to a lot of clients."

He adds, "Once again, the Latin Americans are coming, the Canadians are going to come. So the question now is, who else?"
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