NATPE, CES conferences jockey for position

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CORRECTED 7:15 p.m. PT Nov. 14, 2007

Look out, NATPE: CES is coming for you.

The Consumer Electronics Assn. on Tuesday touted a bigger presence from the entertainment industry at its upcoming convention. CES president and CEO Gary Shapiro was joined at a New York news conference by top execs from NBC Universal and Sony Pictures Television, which are significantly raising their profile at the Jan. 7-10 CES in Las Vegas.

Hours earlier in Los Angeles, the National Association of TV Programming Executives was put on the defensive at its own news event, with the organization's president and CEO, Rick Feldman, declaring that there's enough room for both conferences.

"NATPE is a content show featuring technological stuff; CES is a technology show featuring content," he said. "Our focus is on being a B2B show where attendees meet, have meetings and do business. CES is not the same thing."

NATPE also will be held in Las Vegas, on Jan. 28-31. The two shows were held days apart last year.

Now CES seems intent on stealing NATPE's thunder. Although NATPE still is a showcase for the shrinking syndication business -- which is not a focus of CES -- its expansion into the digital media realm is being challenged aggressively by CES.

Bill Carroll, vp and director of programming at station-rep firm Katz Television Group, said NATPE's conference remains viable but has shifted that viability from one area to another.

"NATPE is basically going through an evolution," he said. "It started out basically as a domestic programming meeting. It then became a selling venue, and now it's more of an international meeting with less emphasis on domestic sales."

NATPE was hurt last month when syndie juggernaut CBS Television Distribution announced that it would skip this year's confab, citing brisk business on its new first-run entry, the tentatively titled "Dr. Phil" spinoff "The Doctors" (HR 10/30). The company's international counterpart, CBS Paramount International Television, will return.

But without CBS' domestic distribution division present, unit CEO Roger King won't be throwing his annual party -- NATPE's unofficial premier social event. Also draining interest is Fox Broadcasting Co.'s decision to push its annual affiliate meeting to March. Previously held in conjunction with NATPE, the event funneled in station owners from around the country.

Like CBS, SPT also has pulled out of NATPE. In June, it became the first studio to announce that it would put down roots at CES instead.

Asked whether Sony was snubbing NATPE, SPT president Steve Mosko said, "CES just makes the most sense for us. It's the right place to be."

Mosko said that among the ad sales, digital, syndication and other SPT departments, the company already has set up 200 meetings. He also said that Jerry Seinfeld, the star of one of SPT's top syndicated offerings, would appear at CES.

"We're there to talk about different ways to present 'Seinfeld' in a digital world," Mosko said. "And we want to add a little excitement to the booth."

While NBC Uni will maintain its strong presence at NATPE, it also has signed up as CES' first official broadcast partner. Beth Comstock, president of integrated media at NBC Uni, also spoke at the CES news conference and noted that almost all of NBC Uni's networks will be present at the event, and "Today," "Access Hollywood" and CNBC will broadcast from the convention floor.

To some degree, CES and NATPE are playing a zero-sum game. As conglomerates get increasingly cost-conscious, the millions of dollars that go into maintaining a convention presence are being called into question. With both shows in the same city in the same month with overlapping agendas, tough calls have to be made.

Feldman added that the number of new syndicated shows being developed for fall 2008 is much higher than in the past few years, which could make for a more active NATPE on the domestic sales front. Also good news for NATPE was the decision of Warner Bros.' domestic distribution division to move out of the suites and back onto the floor this year, joining its international counterpart.

Feldman also noted NATPE's significant international presence, disclosing that a third of the total attendance comes from outside the U.S. and that more than 70 countries are generally represented during the conference's four days. But a lengthy strike also could impact the international marketplace should the supply of programming involving WGA writers diminish.

Feldman said it's too early to tell specifically what the impact of the strike will be on NATPE.

One speaker who has been confirmed is NBC Uni president and CEO Jeff Zucker, who will give the keynote address on Jan. 29, the first day of the conference. He'll also participate in a Q&A with Elizabeth Guider, editor of The Hollywood Reporter, which is sponsoring the session.

Kimberly Nordyke reported from Los Angeles; Alex Woodson reported from New York.
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