Steady sales as NATPE closes


LAS VEGAS -- The exhibition floor and suites were noticeably quieter Thursday as NATPE's 2007 Conference & Exhibition wound down and attendees began heading home.

In fact, the week overall was relatively quiet as very little news surfaced, and certainly no real surprises -- especially on the order of last year, when NATPE attendees awoke on the first day of the confab to the bombshell announcement about the birth of the CW Network.

But that doesn't mean there wasn't a lot of sales activity, the distributors said.

"(Tuesday) was incredible -- it may be possibly the most business we've ever done at NATPE in one day," said John Nogawski, president and chief operating officer of CBS Television Distribution, which was attending its first NATPE since the merger of King World Prods. and CBS Paramount Domestic Television last year.

CBS Television Distribution secured renewals on such first-run shows as "Rachael Ray," "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!" Nogawski added that rookie "Rachael Ray" went from no renewals for Seasons 3 and 4 to 70% of the country renewed with two-year deals in about a week, with 40% of sales happening at NATPE.

"With the lack of success (in new first-run shows) this season, I think stations reacted by saying they better get the big franchises locked up," Nogawski said. "You can't mess with success, and you can't afford to lose what's working."

Sony Pictures Television president of distribution John Weiser said his company had a lot of activity as well. Among other business, SPT was working to increase its clearances for the upcoming court show "Judge David Young," though the strip already had been cleared in 82% of the U.S. before NATPE even got started.

"We were very focused on making sure we really got the proper exposure out of NATPE (for Young)," Weiser said, adding that at last count, the show had been cleared in 85% of the U.S., with 80% signed on for double runs.

But SPT also did lots of business in cable sales and on its movie library product as well, he said.

"I feel good about the syndication business," Weiser said. "The marketplace is very healthy."

Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution kicked off the week with the news that it had sold a new entertainment newsmagazine, "TMZ," to the Fox stations. With that deal concluded, the distributor started talking to other stations about buying the strip, WBDTD president Ken Werner said.

"The response was fabulous," he said. "NATPE affords us the opportunity to expose ('TMZ') to our clients who would not normally think the show is for them."

Along with "TMZ," the only other breaking news from a major distributor was that NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution had sold an untitled talker featuring "The Jerry Springer Show's" Steve Wilkos to Tribune and Sinclair stations. As of Thursday, that show had been cleared in more than 55% of the country.

Twentieth Television released clearance levels Thursday afternoon on its new and returning product, including newcomers "The Morning Show With Mike & Juliet" (65%), game show "Temptation" (40%) and off-net comedy "Family Guy" (82%) as well as returning shows "Judge Alex" (82%) and "Cristina's Court" (85%).

Meanwhile, the independent distributors said they took advantage of the unique opportunities available to pitch their own first-run and off-net product.

Ritch Colbert, who founded Program Partners with Josh Raphaelson, said the response was positive to "Let's Play Crosswords," a game show owned by Program Partners and Merv Griffin Entertainment that was unveiled earlier in the week.

As of early Thursday, Program Partners had commitments from 12 stations that were contingent on the distributor declaring the show a "firm go" within 10 days. Colbert declined to name that stations but said, "There's a couple in the top 20 (markets), and we'll have a few surprises in the top 10."

"We were confident coming in to NATPE, and we're leaving even more confident (in the show)," he said. "There's an 80% chance this will launch, and we'll know in the next 10 days."

Hank Cohen, partner and CEO in new company Trifecta Entertainment & Media, which was attending its first NATPE, said he had "tons of interest" and completed a "fair amount" of deals on his product, which includes "UFC Wired" and "Jack Hanna's Into the Wild." He said Trifecta closed some major-market deals but did not get specific.

"More importantly, we got deals in the works because we were here," he said. "We got the ball rolling. It was important to let people know we're here, that we're a real player."

Just under 8,000 attendees were at this year's NATPE, slightly up from last year, with a total of 371 exhibiting companies, including 129 newcomers.