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No Big Easy NATPE in '04

NATPE has canceled plans to hold its 2004 programming conference in New Orleans. A new venue hasn't been selected, but Las Vegas is reportedly high on the short list of contenders.

The organization said the decision was an "outgrowth of the changing needs of the association's membership." In part, that's a reference to the fact that many Los Angeles-based programmers are less tolerant of the costs of traveling to and setting up exhibit booths in New Orleans.

This year, most of the big exhibitors bolted from the NATPE conference exhibit floor in Las Vegas because they didn't want to pay the freight for booth assembly and floor space (which runs more than $1 million for the biggest booths)—particularly since many station clients stayed home because of the recession.

At the same time, NATPE confirmed that next year's show will be held in the Big Easy. And a majority of the major studios have reportedly expressed an interest (though not yet firm commitments) to returning to the exhibit floor. A source confirmed that Twentieth Television Domestic Distribution is considering such a move.

NATPE President Bruce Johansen said he and the group's strategic task force are "currently exploring all possible options available so that NATPE can best serve the interests of our membership." But, he stressed, "make no mistake about it: We will hold an annual conference in 2004."

Details to follow, including the exact dates. Although there has been some discussion about whether the show might move to March, April or even the fall, sources say it will likely be scheduled for January. But other options are still under consideration.

As for '03, NATPE will provide new modular booth packages "comparable to hotel-suite costs to all companies wishing to exhibit in New Orleans next January." In addition, exhibitors can opt for hospitality suites at the convention center.