NATPE Will Return to Miami Beach in January (Exclusive)

Organizers are looking to address the long waits for elevators to sellers' suites, which wreaked havoc on meeting schedules at this year's event.

Despite grumbling about long waits for elevators to sellers' suites, the National Association of Television Programming Executives will announce shortly that it is returning to the Fountainbleu Resort in Miami Beach again early next year for domestic TV syndication's biggest and most important annual gathering.

The NATPE market and conference is scheduled to take place Jan. 23-25, 2012, which will be its second year in South Florida. It had been held for the prior seven years in Las Vegas and in the years before that had been in other cities, including New Orleans and L.A. It attracted around 5,000 buyers, sellers and media in January.

NATPE CEO Rick Feldman declined to comment on the decision to return to the Fountainbleu. He and others had been in negotiations with the hotel since February over whether to return and how to find solutions to problems that annoyed some attendees. NATPE held an option for a second year but could have pulled out of the hotel.

While the Fountainbleu had undergone extensive renovations in 2010, some attendees were unhappy about the size of the exhibit space (which was relatively small) and a lack of enough restaurants (both in the hotel and the city compared to Vegas).

By design, NATPE was shifted from an emphasis on sellers on the exhibit floor to the use of suites in the towers, but smaller sellers complained they still needed the exhibit floor to reach a large number of attendees. NATPE has undergone changes in recent years as the syndication business consolidated and the convention, which in the 1990s regularly attracted over 10,000 attendees, shrank along with the business to about half that size.

Reinvented as a place both for sales and to connect with the rest of the industry, NATPE did provide a vibrant marketplace for many buyers and sellers. A number of syndicated shows were launched or found more clearances, and sellers said the show was very useful to them as way to network with buyers and expand relationships with people they otherwise talk to by phone or email most of the time. There was a significant increase in international buyers with some finding their time in Miami Beach even more useful than MIP or MIPCOM in Cannes.

The sellers' suites were where the big complaints came. Some said they felt isolated but mostly it was the long waits -- as much as an hour or more -- to get up and down the elevators to where most major sellers had offices.

The hotel and NATPE had agreed to put all of the exhibitors in one of four towers to centralize the business, but the effect was that there was not enough elevator capacity at peak times. That left people waiting for long periods in the hallways, played havoc with meeting schedules and messed up lunch dinner reservations for some.

NATPE and the hotel were working to solve the problem, most likely by spreading out the suites among several towers and putting more of them on the ground floor or adding to more tents around the huge pool area. The tents that were used were popular except on the final day of the conference, when it rained. They are also expected to move more of the large meetings and events to a greater variety of the common rooms rather than bunch them together in a few places.

Some aspects of the move to Miami Beach were successful. The Fountainbleu did provide a single location that kept attendees in one place, as opposed to Vegas, where people and events were sprawled around the town. It also succeeded in boosting attendance by Latin American buyers, who find Miami more convenient than a western U.S. city. It also was an easier, shorter trip for Europeans.

The use of the area around the pool for parties and press conferences was a novelty that worked in some cases -- mostly for parties -- but not as well for press conferences, where the bright sun, wind (blowing on microphones) and lack of auditorium-style seating was an issue. The inside auditoriums functioned well for a series of events during which top TV personalities like Regis Philbin appeared.

However, some buyers and sellers who came from Hollywood expressed unhappiness about the distance they had to travel and ship materials compared to the hour flight to Vegas, and the challenges posed by the time difference. Whether any of those problems are enough to keep them away in 2012 is to be seen.