NATPE CEO Rod Perth Reveals 7 Things He's Learned on The Job

6:00 AM PST 01/27/2014 by Alex Ben Block
Rod Perth

As he starts his second conference, the industry veteran admits he had no idea running it would be so complex, challenging and competitive, but he says its an exciting time for TV: "We're in the middle of a jungle of changes."

When appointed president/CEO of NATPE in May 2012, Rod Perth brought along extensive experience in local and national television, as both producer and executive. He managed a local TV station,  held executive positions at CBS,  USA Network, Reelz Channel and elsewhere. In those capacities, he regularly attended NATPE and served on the board, but nothing could prepare him for the disruptive changes in how content is created, marketed and distributed today. As he prepares to preside over his second NATPE, which begins a three day run Monday in Miami Beach, Perth predicts there will be a record number of sellers, both domestic and international, and it will be “one of the most active markets ever.” Perth shares what he didn’t know when hired and reveals how he is using his new insights as signposts for the re-invention of the annual market and conference. Below, he shares with The Hollywood Reporter seven lessons he's learned on the job.

1. "We’re in the middle of a jungle of changes.”

“What I've learned," says Perth, “is that we're in the middle of this jungle of changes caused by technology and we are all seeking solutions. So it's a great time to be at the center of all this. We're really living television history. The business is about, what, sixty-four years old or so. And what I find remarkable is how the impact of technology and new platforms and new possibilities is compressing decisions at a time when the results of those decisions are going to both create opportunities but also carry with them hazards for existing business models that producers and content creators are going to have to live with for a long, long time. So it's a fantastic time but it's also a hazardous time.”

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2. Everything is happening faster and faster.

“Timelines are compressed,” says Perth. “Things are flying at people. I've heard it over and over again from heads of studios, heads of networks. Things are coming at them so quickly that they are never really certain that their judgments are based upon what judgments were in the past or decisions in the past have been based upon, which was years and years of precedent. There's no precedent for many of the things that are happening today. 

3. It’s a great time to create, but a dangerous time for producers, financiers and distributors.

“When I was at network television there were no secrets about dealmaking,” says Perth. “Everybody knew what a writer was paid on a script or everybody knew what an actor or an actress made. Everybody knew what a production company's license fees would be generally speaking. Today it's moving so quickly, there are so many new platforms, there are so many new buyers and sellers, pipelines are being pinched, which in the end means it's a fabulous time for creators but also a perilous time for dealmakers.”

4. Social media is inescapable.

A Twitter keynote will open the NATPE conference, and Perth says that's a sign of the times. “Marketers have to understand it, advertisers have to be married to not only Twitter but Facebook and all of the social networks," says Perth. This isn't just social networking, it's also the extension of audiences. It's interactivity, it's second screen, it's applications that have been the Holy Grail that have never really been achievable because there were technological limits. But now there's direct involvement by audiences that lead to more information and data that is without precedent. And I think it's as exciting as anything that's ever happened in the business.”

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He also touts the keynote as a get for the conference. “This is an example of leadership. And I'm not saying that this is the only place Twitter [executives] have ever spoken, not by any means. But it's the first time that a large percentage of our constituents will have been in a room [to hear them], which is a huge value add to them. That's what we're all about, adding value and a sense of return on your investment by coming to NATPE. It'll be the first time they've been in a room specifically able to interact with people who have proven to have changed not only our business but the international cultural landscape. So pretty exciting.”

5. The studios are back at NATPE because they do big business there – especially the international sales teams.

“They are coming because we're relevant and because they can do business. Studios don't go anywhere without a return on investment. And they're back, every single one of them," he says. "Fox International just came back with us. Fox had always been with us but now Fox International is with us. NATPE years ago was not an international show. Since the move to Miami, it's a very international show. We keep it [relevant to international buyers and sellers] by making certain that there's events [for them] and there's attention to the international market places.  We're making certain that we're constantly growing the [global] buyer roster. Every single year the buyer list goes up and up and up.  It's about buyers."

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6. NATPE has expanded to encompass digital producers, financiers, buyers and distributors, who want to be part of the new world of television.

“They want to be in the same room,” says Perth. “The world of digital is finding its way through the customs of business in Hollywood. They find it as intimidating as the world of linear television finds the digital world. The only way to bridge that gap is to position ourselves as the bridge between those communities. And we're doing it. We're a forum. We're putting up this big tent and saying we're pushing you all together under that big tent.”

7. This has been a transitional experience for Perth personally.

“I love the job,” says Perth with passionate enthusiasm. “I mean it's been fantastic. I had no clue as to what I was getting into. I really didn't. There's not a lot of people I can say, ‘hey, what was it like running NATPE?’ I could obviously talk to Rick [Feldman, who preceded him as CEO] and he was great -- but beyond that I had no real sense. I had been on the board at one point but, you know, being on a board is very different than running it. From the outside, it looked -- I don't want to use the word 'easy' -- but it looked like it was going to be a job that I could certainly manage. I will only tell you that it has been incredibly more complex, far more competitive than I anticipated. I was pleased that I inherited a terrific staff that's been wonderful.”

He goes on to discuss the pros and cons of being involved with a longrunning brand.

“I also learned that our fifty-year legacy and brand is a wonderful thing to inherit, but it also can be a bit of an anchor because you have to fight the resistance to change. I think this staff is wonderful about embracing change. And collectively we've turned a corner. We've got buzz, we're an international market, we're moving [the other market NATPE runs in eastern Europe] from Budapest to Prague. We're going to make some big announcements coming up.”

“In general, I think I made the right decision. I'll let everybody else judge whether it was the right decision for the organization but I hope it was.”

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