NATPE still has place in ever-changing world

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Whether flying first class, business or coach to the myriad international TV markets, there's no escaping all that added travel stress in this post-Sept. 11 era. But these days, it seems some foreign TV executives can't or won't even get off the ground anymore to attend America's biggest TV confab.

NATPE, the longest-running U.S. domestic and international television market, is feeling the effects of the new world's security cordon as U.S. authorities continue to heavily scrutinize visas from many parts of the planet, including China.

In addition, an intrinsic change in how the global TV business operates has proven a challenge for NATPE.

All of which NATPE president and CEO Rick Feldman takes in stride, though it's disappointing because the organization's annual January gathering in Las Vegas offers Europeans and others a unique perspective on the industry, he says.

It seems that for the past few years, quite a few TV business executives from various corners of the globe have been unable to obtain visas to travel to the U.S. to attend NATPE.

Feldman is proud of the fact that despite this and many more challenges, as much as 30% of NATPE attendance still comes from foreign shores. But maintaining NATPE's international front has been challenging, to say the least.

"It's very important for us to focus on the global marketplace," says Feldman, a wiry and seemingly tireless terrier on behalf of his storied organization. "But it's hard with our government making it difficult to get visas, especially from China and parts of the Pacific Rim and Eastern Europe. People in China have to travel from various points to Beijing in order to get visas, and so every year we lose some people who don't get visas on time."

Core shifts in how the international television sector operates have also been challenging for NATPE, Feldman says. "In the past couple of years, a lot of the bigger studios have developed a larger presence in Europe, so it has made it difficult for us to attract the Europeans."

With such entities as CBS Paramount, NBC Universal, Fox, Warner Bros. and others staffing up sales and distribution headquarters in all the major capitals of Europe, there is really no need for buyers to make the often arduous journey to Las Vegas each January. "So it's a little bit more difficult for us to see people from Europe because the studios are in their markets year-round. We continue to highlight the fact that we have a very large attendance from Latin America every year but the Western European thing has been somewhat difficult."

NATPE has succeeded in building itself up in Europe, however, with its oversight of the big Eastern European market DISCOP, which has increased attendance this year by more than 50% under the NATPE banner. NATPE maintains its international presence in lots of other ways too, such as its global Web seminars, competitions and foreign networking enablers.

Feldman hopes to convince more European buyers that they need to brave the tansatlantic hop to attend the market because NATPE offers international attendees an opportunity to get a close-up look at trends, shifts and changes in the U.S. media landscape. MIP and MIPCOM (international TV markets in Cannes) tend to be "European-centric ... whereas NATPE offers a chance to take the pulse of what is happening in the U.S. from an advertising and programming point of view."
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