Role of trade shows in question

New business models putting damper on confabs like NATPE

LAS VEGAS -- Everyone talks about the so-called broken business model for broadcasting, but there's also a challenged model for trade shows, NATPE included.

And it's not just the economy that's put a damper on such industry gatherings.

"The real question is how valuable actual face time is, and for what purpose it is used, when so much -- now even actual transactions -- can be accomplished via the Internet or at more specialized trade events," one longtime attendee said here.

Another NATPE participant said that so much content-licensing business is done year-round, at least by the larger companies, that spending big bucks to erect booths and effectively subsidize the little guys is "simply no longer an effective modus operandi in straitened times."

Hence, all the larger players -- those with concrete content to sell and projects with funding behind them -- are working out of suites in the Hotel, adjacent to the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. (Not one of them, however, has bothered to put out a news release trumpeting clearances or announcing a new project, so much has hype become irrelevant to what these guys do.)

Lionsgate is a key mini-major supplier that is adamant the NATPE market still serves its purpose.

"I have back-to-back meetings throughout," said Lionsgate executive vp Rand Stoll, who is licensing movie packages to cablers. He added that all the players he needs to see are dropping in, and it's nonstop for him during the confab's three-day run.

The mini-major does boast some of the more high-profile fare, however, including "Precious," "Mad Men" and "The Killer," so its enthusiasm for the market partially can be explained by its image as a go-to supplier. Lionsgate also is re-launching TV Guide as a full-fledged entertainment channel and accelerating content strategy for Epix, which also is bringing folks into the room for chats.

Elevator traffic to various hotel floors to meet with the 30-odd registered exhibiting companies has been solid here, though not as heavy or snarled as it was three, four and five years ago before the economic downturn.

As for the convention floor, the tempo picked up Tuesday, with mainstays like CableReady's indefatigable Gary Lico holding forth from his booth on his company's cable university program, and at the other end with the celebrity chefs, whose dishes sent delicious smells wafting over the proceedings.

No booth actually served anything other than coffee or handed out anything more elaborate than decals that light up, fiscal probity being the order of the day.

With no one seemingly eager to pull out their wallets, the accompanying panels and workshops were left to pick up the slack -- and energy level. According to several attendees, the gabfest is the part of the NATPE show that should be enhanced.

"NATPE used to have big-draw names who gave keynotes and then got up and left," one delegate said. "The need now is for more hands-on advice that helps people find success in the business."

Thus, the "House" team, including producer David Shore and star Hugh Laurie, drew a sizable audience at 8 a.m. Tuesday to dissect the Fox series. So too did the Legacy Award winners -- NBC's Jeff Gaspin, producer David E. Kelley, ad maven Irwin Gotlieb and Judge Judy Sheindlin -- who each were interviewed for 30 minutes in the morning.

As for whether NATPE's shift to Miami next year will reinforce or undermine the trade show's raison d'etre, opinions are divided.

Some are adamant that the move is "inspired," boosting regional appeal for the Latin American contingent and making it more accessible to Europeans and East Coasters. Others point out that the Hollywood majors will ignore it almost completely, thus diminishing the importance of the show for strong national product, not to mention the importance to the coffers of the nonprofit National Association of Television Program Executives.

One note of caution and a challenge from Gotlieb, a key TV ad executive.

He told NATPE-goers Tuesday that he remains concerned about the overall economy through this year and doesn't think the total TV ad pie will expand during the same time frame -- a scary thought for any media trade show. He also said he believed the TV industry has done "a poor job" of attracting the best talents and minds to the business.

NATPE can do little about the former, but if it gets its mojo back, it could help on the latter score.
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