Reconfigured NATPE Ends on Upbeat Note Despite Elevator 'Hiccup'

Even with hourlong waits to get to meetings in hotel suites, many attendees were satisfied with the annual TV convention's new Miami home.

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- The energy was up, the schmoozingnonstop, and there were even some program deals closed at this newly configured, transitional NATPE, the first in Miami in a decade.

Admittedly, there were the inevitable glitches -- most notably the elevators to sales suites in the Tresor tower. Waits of up to an hour meant meetings missed and clients irritated. Sellers scrambled to accommodate or work out of cabanas poolside (a big thumbs-up despite the wind) or in the Fontainebleau Hotel proper.

A few also griped about there being too few restaurants on hand and a deafening noise level in the central watering hole in the hotel lobby.

"The hotel reminded me of Mr. Peabody's way-back machine in Rocky & Bullwinkle," said one seasoned attendee, who noted that the Fontainebleau was more conducive to tourists in 1955 than to conventioneers today. "But we managed to do business anyway."

Even more emphatic was Nu Image CEO Danny Dimbort. "I would not come next year to this hotel. You pay so much money; you cannot get a glass of wine at the bar at 7 o'clock because there are too many people in the lobby. And if people have to come back from the top floor to go down, it can take 40 minutes. People are very upset."

NATPE organizers have 30 days to sort out the problems with the hotel, or the nonprofit organization could shift the trade show to another venue, presumably still in Miami Beach.

Still, after four years of ever-dwindling attendance in Las Vegas and an increasingly recession-wearied tone, this three-day confab may have helped the business turn the corner.

"The general buzz of people doing business throughout the resort -- from the lobby to the suites to the cabanas overlooking the ocean -- has been very gratifying," NATPE president-CEO Rick Feldman said Wednesday.
A variety of attendees also felt mostly satisfied with the move away from Sin City.

Said Katz programming rep and longtime NATPE-goer Bill Carroll: "I believe for most everyone the convention was a success. After all, some business was done. There was a lot of networking and good meetings. The elevators to the sales suites were a hiccup, but just that."

Similarly, indie program distributor Jon Helmrich said: "Americans in TV now have a gathering place that combines producers, distributors and international-channel players in an attractive setting ... and it's fun. I think NATPE in Miami has come very close to that."

The convention floor itself was downsized but inviting and relaxed, a welcome change from the cavernous emptiness that characterized the Vegas exhibition space.

Said Paul Bales of Burbank-based indie distrib Asylum, which had a stand on the floor: "One of the things we found was even though you don't write as much business as some of the other markets we attend, we find that we get to see people. You get a chance to talk and fill them in on what is going on. Plus, we've never been to Miami for business. It's a great town."

Panels during the convention were reduced in number and length, both changes going over well. Attendance was spotty except for the highlights -- a session with outgoing NBC Universal topper Jeff Zucker and back-to-back Q&As with Univision and Telemundo chieftains Cesar Conde and Don Browne, respectively.

Latins in fact enjoyed an impressive coming-out party at NATPE, showcasing a number of upcoming telenovelas and announcing a raft of programming deals -- with one another, with Europeans and with Hollywood suppliers.

This year's Legacy Awards in honor of Brandon Tartikoff was an SRO affair, with witty and touching comments from honorees Regis Philbin, Mary Hart, Dick Ebersol and RTL's Gerhard Zeiler.

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While first-run syndication is no longer the be-all and end-all of the sales bazaar, there were signs that domestic distributors are coming back out of the woodwork and pitching projects.

Station managers certainly are starting to see their cupboards empty out and the syndicated fare they are airing getting, well, a little long in the tooth.

Tribune programming chieftain Sean Compton said on one panel that distributors need to step up.

"We need fresh, original fare. The off-net pipeline is thin, and someone needs to take some risks," he said.

As it turned out, several are and were on hand in Miami to rack up the last tranche of clearances to declare firm go's and/or introduce their talent to station bosses.

Warners' Telepictures quietly and efficiently finished locking down nearly the entire country for its Anderson Cooper talk show. CBS Distribution made further headway with its dating show Excused.

Debmar-Mercury pulled off the surprise of the market, unveiling a project for 2012 with, of all people, a former Roman Catholic priest (and best-selling author), Father Alberto Cutie. Its test station group this summer: Fox and its new plan to tape dual English and Spanish formats.

At the same time, the Mort Marcus-Ira Bernstein distributor fielded their current gabber prospect for this fall, Jeremy Kyle, who couldn't be more different from Father Albert. The first plans to be confrontational, but without throwing chairs, he says; the second plans to be inspirational, though he will deal with everything from "sex to salvation."

"The challenge faced by the new offerings is despite their uniqueness, they need to break through in a very competitive and splintered environment having to take on established shows," Carroll said. "This next season is a time of change with the departure of Oprah and Regis. Viewing patterns may shift as schedules change."

As for the final stats: Registered attendees as of Wednesday morning reached 4,500, with buyers up almost double to 700 from last year. Execs from stations also were well-repped -- some 285, up 70 stations from last year.

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