The talk show queen's exit from the syndication arena this year could bring renewed energy to the annual TV convention, which kicks off Monday in its new Miami home.
The big question facing the NATPE convention in Miami this week: Can the annual TV trade show be both a Latin-accented, telenovela-tilted extravaganza and at the same time retain its historic role as a crucial rendezvous for the domestic syndication and local U.S. station biz?
The 5,000-odd participants who are winging their way right now to the three-day sales bazaar (Jan. 24-26) in the Florida sunshine are certainly hoping so.
With economies and TV advertising around the globe mostly on the upswing and outlets for content ever proliferating, chances are this NATPE confab could catch the wave.
One thing is clear. The confidence of the Hispanic and Latin contingents has never been greater with Univision and Telemundo Stateside making significant inroads into overall national viewership and ad dollars -- and impressing with their own original productions for the world market.
Their clients, partners and rivals in South America also come to town with one suitcase full of their own shows to sell and another empty and ready to fill with the latest Hollywood concoctions. Europeans will pop over in discreet numbers, mainly to suss out what's in store on the programming front for next season and to catch up on who's in and who's out at the various Hollywood studios and networks.
No doubt the hot topic at the Fontainebleau Hotel's various watering holes will be Comcast's impending takeover of NBC Universal -- and all the executives who in the process are being exalted or exited. Panels at NATPE featuring Peacock vets Jeff Zucker and Ben Silverman should be well attended. (So too a keynote from advertising ace and head of WPP Martin Sorrell, who will talk about how commercials are changing in the digital age.)
There may be even more pertinent changes in the U.S. biz which will impact this and future NATPEs.
Both Oprah Winfrey and Regis Philbin -- two of the country's daytime dynamos -- are leaving the syndie arena at the end of the current season and stations across the country are as a result looking for something fresh to spice up their schedules.
The good news is that local stations have just come off a buoyant advertising year and hence have cash to play with.
"We're coming to town with hopes of finding decent things for one or two different time slots. We're not going to overspend but we are going to make sure we haven't overlooked anything," said one station GM who didn't want to be named so as not to be besieged by sellers before he even hits the convention floor.
Speaking of which, the exhibition space has been down-sized and revamped and will accommodate mostly U.S. indie distributors and foreign companies; the major Hollywood suppliers will be receiving clients and selling shows out of suites in the Fontainebleau complex.
In short, the official convention floor will be a much more manageable affair and the suites accessible nearby. Moving back and forth between the two areas of business won't, presumably, be the cross-country trek it was for the five years the organization set up shop at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
Reporters who decried the defections of key syndicators to hotel suites in Vegas as a betrayal of NATPE first principles will likely have to find something else to fixate on. The org's president-CEO Rick Feldman has tirelessly pointed out that in the early days of the convention, almost 50 years ago, business generally unspooled in hotel rooms, not on a convention floor. As he put it, no exec cares where people do business as long as there's useful business to be done and the getting there is easy enough.
Since Miami typically has balmy weather in January, a number of exhibitors are foregoing both -- and setting up cabanas around the pool area.
While the stars of several upcoming telenovelas will provide most of the sex appeal at the water's edge or at cocktail parties Sunday through Wednesday, several first-run strip hopefuls are skedded to make an appearance and glad-hand with station managers.
Warners' TelePictures unit is flying in Anderson Cooper for a day in order for the CNN news anchor to talk about his upcoming afternoon gabber, which has already been widely cleared on local stations Stateside.
Indie dynamo Debmar-Mercury will be introducing Brit talker Jeremy Kyle to Yank buyers and trying to close the last tranche of stations to bring coverage to the magic 85% or 90% clearance rate.
And just last week CBS Distribution president John Nogawski made the decision to bring out one of several projects he was considering -- a dating gameshow called Excused, which he says could perform the same function for stations that an offnet sitcom could. Its clearances are also off and running.
As with past editions of NATPE, there could be a surprise entry from some intrepid indie distributor who may see an opening or clinch a significant enough deal with a launch station group to build momentum. No one runs around the convention floor anymore chalking up station call letters on blackboards every time they handshake a deal, but "firm goes" still do matter.
Meanwhile, local players from the Miami area will try to make a splash of their own.
Most notably: Numero uno Hispanic broadcaster Univision, which is celebrating the one-year operation of its new production studio.
Univision Networks president Cesar Conde says Miami reps "a golden moment" for his company, what with robust ad revs, record ratings and recent census data confirming 50 million Hispanics in the U.S., 16 percent of the population.
"Our goals at NATPE include fostering relationships with the top production houses and creating awareness of the high quality productions of Univision Studios," Conde says.
In addition, the network's most valuable talent, Don Francisco, will be on hand to talk about his long-running entertainment variety show, Sabado Gigante. He'll offer up a few trade secrets over morning coffee and reveal plans for his 50th anni on the air, which comes in 2012.
Not even Gringo syndie stalwarts Wheel and Jeopardy can match that run.