January 2012
Volume 32 No. 1

January 2012
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U.S. Studios See NATPE As a “Definite Maybe”

If NATPE could attract more European, Canadian and Asian-Pacific buyers, the U.S. studios would most likely abandon all other pre-Los Angeles Screenings markets to focus on the Miami, Florida market in January. Better yet, if the market were held in mid-February, the timing would be perfect for mid-season replacement series and new winter productions. And, the very fact that NATPE is taking place at the beginning of a new budget year makes it ideal for any kind of negotiations.

Fountainbleu

According to a former U.S. studio president, the NATPE board has entertained the idea of moving its dates to mid-February. Reportedly, it's a move that would have been supported by the large studios, but to date nothing has been decided.

NATPE is already successful with Latin American buyers, but, apparently, it is not yet enough of a draw for the big studios. Yes, all the studios have large presences at NATPE, which have increased every year since the market moved from Las Vegas to Miami Beach in 2011, but the support is, so far, limited to their Latin American divisions. Indeed, some of the studios have rented full floors at one of the four towers of the Fontainebleau Hotel and Resort and are giving elaborate evening parties, but it's still a far cry from a full-fledged commitment.

Aside from Sony Pictures Television (SPT), which will increase its presence on the boats anchored at the docks of the Marina facing the resort, each studio will reside in extended suites in various towers, with Disney at the Tresor, Fox at the Sorrento, CBS at the Chateau, and Warner Bros. and NBC Universal both at the Versailles.

The opinion of one former Sony exec is that, perhaps, the studios don't want NATPE to become too big for fear of returning to the old days of costly booths, versus the current inexpensive hotel suites. "Besides," the source said, "they don't have that kind of money anymore. Corporate took it away and it is not giving it back."

To a former president of Warner Bros., it's just a matter of budget. "It's where one can make the cuts," he said. He also explained, "Latin America represents about 10 percent of world sales, while the remaining 90 percent comes from 10 percent of the territories."

To a Fox representative, the studio is "not very active [at NATPE]" even though its Latin division is having a pre-market screening to launch its new Keifer Sutherland show, Touch, and the home office is even flying its Canadian sales staff to Miami — one of the few studios to do so.

A former NBC Universal executive remembered that "there were always meetings with our president du jour to figure out how to split the presence at NATPE and MIP. There were issues with both markets. For example, NATPE was considered too short to have sales executives fly over just for it, so we'd have company meetings before the market." He then continued: "Even though there is always new product to sell, NATPE was considered more of a goodwill gesture than a commercial undertaking."

For an executive who has worked at three of the six studios, "NATPE is not a solid income-producing convention: Its growth is driven by the economic environment and the studios are trying to figure out how to get more for less." He also added that when the February market in Monte Carlo was alive, it was "the best business market of all three." However, he acknowledged that "The timing of NATPE is good," although it is still "a luxury," because buyers commit upfront for the new shows. Therefore the market "is not conducive to major business."

Later, the conversation shifted to the changing business environment, which, for the studios, started with the 2008 writers' strike, when the vertically integrated conglomerates were forced to rely on reality TV. In a vertically integrated business model, one exec explained, failure affects four divisions: Development, Network, International Sales and Domestic Syndication. "And failure constitutes 80 percent of the business," he concluded.

Nonetheless, with a U.S. presidential election and the Olympics coming up, this year is expected to be good for the U.S. TV networks and, indirectly, for the other studio divisions.

On the U.S. domestic side, more than the changing business environment, what affected NATPE most were the changing rules about vertical integration, which, with the development of a few station groups, eliminated the need to clear a first run show market-by-market.

Before the changing rules, the studios' international divisions — which up to then were housed at the booths of their domestic counterparts — took over, and the domestic arms became their guests. Later, some of the studios' domestic TV divisions tried to explore the potential of the Consumer Electronics' trade show (CES) held in Las Vegas prior to NATPE, but they quickly retreated.

Today, what's left of that experiment is a conference organized by CES with the Producers Guild of America, to be held June 8-10 on the Sony Pictures Studio lot in Culver City, California. At the January CES show, the majority of executives hail from the digital divisions of networks such as Canal Plus and HBO.

At CBS Studios International, the general attitude toward NATPE is that the studio "will go where buyers go." But that masks a "chicken and egg" dilemma, because buyers are attracted mostly by the studios' presence, but the latter will not send their sales executives from, let's say, their European offices, to NATPE if buyers from Europe will not be in Miami.

The executive who served at three studios explained that the studios' attitude toward NATPE offers an "interesting dichotomy," since on one hand they'd like it to grow and on the other they don't want to fully commit.

To a former international president of both Paramount TV and MGM-TV, NATPE is still evolving and Miami is helping. However, even though it is a "big Latin market," NATPE is perceived more as a "conference rather than a sales convention." Indeed, the NATPE organization tends to avoid using the word "sales" in their slogan, which is simply, "Content First."

The former president also said that, in the case of Canada, if buyers want to talk with studio executives from the home office in Los Angeles other than Canadian-based representatives, they can travel directly to California instead of Miami for NATPE. And that explains the reluctance of studios to fly their Canadian executives to Miami. Naturally, if NATPE were able to attract a good number of buyers, studio headquarters would be forced to fly over their regional sales staff. However, he added, as NATPE stands, the large Latin contingent is served by the studios' Miami-based Latin American divisions, while executives from the home office in Los Angeles meet with the few European buyers that attend the market.

On the U.S. domestic side, support for NATPE is a matter of attitude more than a necessity, though this year, with four new talk shows on the roster for fall 2012, marketing (i.e., creating the buzz) is unusually important. With the vacuum created by Oprah Winfrey's departure from daytime television, and Regis Philbin's recent exit from daytime, the U.S. syndication market is ready for a major overhaul this year. The four aforementioned talk shows are not including Debmar-Mercury's Jeremy Kyle talk show and SPT's 2013-slated Queen Latifah daytime show.

Nevertheless, commented a Disney domestic television executive, "We're so well sold with [a new talk show from] Katie [Couric], there simply isn't much of a need [for a NATPE presence] at this point."

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