NATPE gearing up for January confab

Elisabeth Murdoch, Michael Eisner among the big draws

Discovery's David Zaslav, Shine's Elisabeth Murdoch, Hollywood heavyweight Michael Eisner and writer-producer Bill Lawrence are among the big-ticket draws at the upcoming National Association of Television Program Executives confab unspooling in Las Vegas Jan. 25-27.

In a conference call with media Wednesday, NATPE president and CEO Rick Feldman previewed key highlights of the event, which for the fifth year takes place at the Mandalay Bay Resort.

The event's theme -- Content Commerce Connections -- embodies NATPE's mission as a facilitator, bringing industry leaders and entrepreneurs together from broadcast, cable, digital and international.

Like many such trade events during the last two years, attendance has dwindled and many companies are reducing their participation, especially domestic syndicators and U.S. station groups.

Regarding the former there are very few new first-run projects coming to market, and the opening up of the "Oprah" slot in 2011 won't be felt until the next go-round, in early 2011 when the confab takes place in Miami. As for the latter, local stations around the country have been sorely tried by the downturn in advertising and in any case nowadays send fewer folks to trade shows.

Feldman says he expects the total attendance this January to slightly exceed last year's 6,500, adding that all the key Hollywood players would be represented in some way. (Several major companies though will no longer be taking booths or even manning hotel suites, preferring rather to dip in and out of Vegas for key meetings.)

Feldman said that as a dealmaking venue, NATPE, like other such events, has changed: "It's a much more year-round marketplace. From a domestic syndication standpoint, there are fewer transactions because there's less content being created." However, he added, "In terms of digital, there are seeds of deals planted on micro-levels and dealmaking is being done at NATPE."

The good news, Feldman said, is that the confab is "a cornucopia of people who interact."

"For professionals involved in all aspects of content and distribution, NATPE has always been about networking, and this year we've doubled our efforts to facilitate meaningful business opportunities for every attendee, from the top-tier executive ranks to the young professionals who will drive the future of our business," he said.

High-level content executives will be featured for three full days beginning with Zaslav, president and CEO of Discovery Communications, on Monday morning. Murdoch, chairman and CEO of the Shine Group, will deliver the international keynote on Wednesday morning.

Tuesday will feature an advertising track in association with MediaLink's Michael Kassan, which will open with Esther Lee, senior vp at AT&T.

Eisner, CEO of the Torrante Co., will appear on Monday discussing creativity, as will writer-producer Bill Lawrence. In addition, Shelly Palmer will deliver the "State of the Digital Union" address.

Hugh Laurie, David Shore and Katie Jacobs discuss "House" at Tuesday's early-morning coffee klatch; Roma Khana, NBC Universal International senior vp, talks up international channels at a similar chat session Wednesday.

Monday night's Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award honorees -- David E. Kelley, Irwin Gotlieb, Jeff Gaspin and Judge Judith Sheindlin -- are debriefed Tuesday morning, followed by Bravo's Andy Cohen, who will feature Donald Trump as one of his guests.

Dozens of other panels, workshops, mentor sessions, case studies, master classes and interviews will illuminate the landscape in the digital content world.

To facilitate the networking and de-limit the geographical distance between the convention floor and the hotel business suites, NATPE is moving the exhibition closer to the hotel suites themselves and mounting the panels and workshops close by. That change should provide for a more intimate, effective conference and minimize the feeling of empty space which depressed the mood last year.

The move thereafter to Miami's Fontainebleau hotel should reinvigorate the market further, Feldman explained, attracting more Latins and Europeans.