Another suite retreat

Carsey-Werner is cutting back its presence at next year's NATPE, moving its domestic syndication unit off the convention floor into a suite at The Venetian hotel in Las Vegas.

Now sources indicate that other syndicators, including Paramount Domestic Television, have at least explored the possibility of going off-site in the future. Paramount won't comment, but when BROADCASTING & CABLE checked last week, it couldn't find evidence that any Paramount executives are booked at the hotel during NATPE.

Bob Raleigh, Carsey-Werner's domestic distribution chief, explained last week that his company is taking a path similar to that of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, which began the migration to The Venetian. There is "no need to have an enormous, expensive presence on the floor for customers who aren't there," he noted.

Also like Warner Bros., Carsey-Werner's international division will have some presence on the NATPE floor. The booth will be a diminished 1,000 square feet, down from January's 6,000 square feet (for the entire company).

At press time, NATPE officials had no comment. But they have consistently claimed that, as far as they knew, Warner Bros. domestic unit was the sole syndicator moving off NATPE's main stage next year.

Both Warner Bros. and Carsey-Werner are expected to stick to their hotel-suite plans when NATPE lands in New Orleans in 2003.

Apparently, it's simple to make last-minute plans in Las Vegas, where hotels are plentiful, but trickier to do in New Orleans, which has less available space.

Not surprisingly, NATPE CEO Bruce Johansen and Chairman Jon Mandel have repeatedly said that leaving the floor may not be a smart decision. But Carsey-Werner's Raleigh says he understands that NATPE's growing importance is to international buyers, new-media folks and advertisers. Earlier this month, Carsey-Werner launched an Internet syndication division; Raleigh, therefore, is fine with NATPE's catering to Web-based businesses.

"Bruce Johansen and his group have done an excellent job of making it into a large trade show," says Raleigh. "But it's just not the major selling event for domestic television that it once was. As long as it maintains that direction, we will maintain a reduced presence."

Carsey-Werner will send just half of its sales force to the convention, putting the other half on the road that week to visit station executives who are also not attending.

In the past several years, fewer station executives have been showing up, given the fact that a lot of their programming duties are now the jobs of single-station group heads, who often make their decisions before NATPE starts. "We're not not going to participate," Raleigh says. "We're just going to participate in a different way."

For the last several years, a few syndicators have threated to leave NATPE, arguing that consolidation and group buying made the show a less active convention than it once was. The recent flap erupted in January, when a group of syndicators, led by Warner's Dick Robertson, resurrected their complaints on the eve of the convention's opening day. But at the same time, NATPE has been fortified by international buyers and new-media exhibitors.

Increasingly, the iffy economy is causing havoc at all kinds of media conventions. The NCTA in Chicago next month expects 15% fewer attendees, that organization said earlier this month.