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NATPE reaches out

NATPE Chairman and ad guru Jon Mandel wants the organization's annual convention to become a gathering of a variety of TV programmers, not just syndicators.

Mandel, co-managing director of MediaCom, thinks advertisers, particularly, would benefit from a one-stop-shopping venue for programming in the syndication, cable and broadcast network realms.

But this is an idea that, in the parlance of the business, is not a firm go.

"All of our organizations need to be looking at the future. Put aside the economic situation and you still have an industry that is consolidating," says Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, which considered hooking up with January's NATPE conference after its own September event was canceled in the wake of the Sept. 11 events. "All of these ideas are worth kicking around."

However, she doesn't think NATPE is a good fit with RTNDA because her members are "interested in the equipment in their newsrooms rather than syndicated programming."

Meanwhile, last week, the Association of Local Television Stations, which usually holds conferences just prior to NATPE's official opening, pulled out, too, because it has determined that many of its members aren't going to Las Vegas this year.

"The continuing depression in television advertising, the unease many have about traveling, and the fact that the major programmers have abandoned the NATPE floor have all combined to make January in Las Vegas a time and place to be avoided," ALTV President Jim Hedlund said. ALTV says it will hold its annual public-policy convention at another date and location to be determined.

Other industry gatherings—from last summer's Promax/BDA to next month's cable Western Show—are showing strains of consolidation, limiting attendance. Economic woes are only making things worse. NATPE itself has nine major syndicators leaving the Las Vegas floor this January.

Mandel and NATPE President Bruce Johansen insist, however, that the show is still a major draw for ad agencies that flock to the show.

"Doesn't it make some sense to have Promax/BDA and RTNDA and the cable shows all together in one week?" Mandel asked last week. "There are lots of things to look at."

A representative of the upcoming Western Show says organizers would be "open to suggestions" but admitted it would be likelier to combine with the National Cable Television Association convention.

As Rob Morhaim, vice president of first-run programming for Big Ticket Television puts it, combining NATPE with a cable show would be "like putting the Hatfields and the McCoys in the same room" because it would cater to industries that typically compete for the same viewers.

There are some other problems as well. Most big television conventions have booked venues far into the future. And Young Broadcasting operations chief Deborah McDermott points out an even more vexing consideration: If one convention serves all for a week or so, who runs the stations they've left behind?

"If you're trying to get more people to come to these conventions, all you need is a better economy," she says. "This business could not be worse. It's not the time to send people to meetings."

Also, NATPE said last week that it will help attendees navigate the divide between the floor and the Venetian hotel, where several major syndicators will be holding forth. Plans include setting up a centralized shuttle service between the convention hall and the hotel. In addition, NATPE wants to include a listing of the syndicator hotel-suite locations in its official conference guide booklets.