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Nods to New Media in Syndication

New-media executives were a conspicuous presence at last week’s gathering of the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE). But when it came down to doing deals, the annual show was still all about the traditional syndication market.

Nearly half of about 60 panels at the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas were devoted to some aspect of digital media. But while station groups and syndicators were in the executive suites toasting acquisitions, the new-media guys were on the floor, slogging through such panels as “The Devilish Details of Digital Distribution” and “Alternative Upfronts I: Advertisers as Program Partners: Joint Creativity in a Viral Video World.”

Meanwhile, some programming executives sought to draw clear boundaries between their domains and the growing world of new media.

“All we care about is the rating on ABC,” said Andrea Wong, ABC executive VP of alternative programming, series and late night, speaking on a panel about reality TV. “We are 100% driven by hit shows. [The company] is developing shows with great value to, but it’s a totally separate entity to ABC Entertainment.”

To be sure, a handful of online-video providers made news during the convention. Online syndicator and publisher Brightcove announced that it had raised some $60 million in new funding, while United Talent Agency said it has paired with online publisher Veoh on a Website for potential clients to submit content.

One of the biggest traditional syndication deals to come out of last week’s convention is based on an online property: Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution’s sale of a newsmagazine based on AOL’s gossip site (see Syndication, p. 15). (Warner Bros. was also exhibiting AOL’s In2TV broadband site in the executive suites.)

And many smaller producers that had been at NATPE before—as well as international outfits new to the show—worked the floor in search of opportunities to forge new-media partnerships.

Atlas Media Corp., a New York-based production company that sells 80% of its shows to cable networks like Discovery Health and The History Channel, aims to branch into broadcast but also met with digital players.

“No time is wasted” by exploring new media, says Atlas President/Executive Producer Bruce David Klein. “If there’s a good idea and it’s fun to produce, something will come of it.”

FremantleMedia and Granada, among other Britain-based production companies, were pitching interactive game shows, a genre poised to heat up in the next several months.

Granada met with several cable networks and station groups to pitch shows designed to run commercial-free during off-peak periods, such as late night and afternoon. Text messages from viewers responding to trivia or games would generate the revenue.

American networks TBS and GSN have experimented in the medium with middling success, but the shows are huge in Britain. Granada parent ITV expects to take in more than $50 million from interactivity this year alone.

“[Interactive] shows might not get that many viewers, but they commercialize the ones they have,” says Granada America CEO David Gyngell, who expects to have several new shows on either cable or broadcast within three to six months.

Russ Kagan, president of International Program Consultants Inc. and a NATPE board member, notes that the digital dimension of this year’s show has been largely folded into the broader deals.

“It’s licensing things, cross-platform,” he says. “No one’s leaving any stone unturned.”