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Still gung ho on NATPE 2002

NATPE chief Bruce Johansen says the January show is a firm go, but adds that if the world gets too crazy, holding the convention in cyberspace, rather than Las Vegas, is a possibility.

While downplaying the idea that will happen, he says if international attendees and exhibitors start to bail out, NATPE 2002 might not be viable. So far, he notes, the international crowd is holding firm.

Last week Johansen also disclosed he'd talked with representatives from the Radio-Television News Directors Association about organizing a mini-convention at NATPE, but the news organization later decided against it. RTNDA's convention, which was to have begun Sept. 12, the day after the terrorist attacks, was canceled.

Barbara Cochran, RTNDA's president, explained that news directors need the time during NATPE to prepare for February sweeps. Additionally, she said RTNDA is still trying to "resolve financial matters" internally.

NATPE's international component has, in recent years, made up for declines in syndicators and stations. "We've not gotten the sense that people are skittish about coming to our conference in January," stresses Johansen, adding that he's talked to attendees in Latin America, Asia and Europe. "No international exhibitor has pulled out since the attacks."

But he says if there's a fearful attitude in January, NATPE is "certainly not going to endanger our members' lives," and suggests the possibility of an "electronic conference," or some sort of online networking instead.

However, even if travel and terrorism worries were out of the picture, there's still the nagging problem of syndicators fleeing the show. And Johansen is not pulling any punches about the half-dozen syndicators that will leave the convention floor and go solo at the Venetian. Paramount Domestic Television is the most recent defection.

"They're siphoning off the efforts we're doing," he says. "They say they support NATPE, but they absolutely do not. They're nothing more than parasites. I feel very strongly about this."

In part to dissuade convention-goers from going to the Venetian, NATPE will have all of its seminars at the convention center, not the Hilton next door. "Don't you wonder why?" Johansen asked, facetiously. He answered himself: "We don't want to give people any reason to leave the hall."

But Johansen also adds that after this year's show, NATPE will be re-evaluating everything—including, apparently, the idea of holding NATPE in a series of hotel suites itself, as was done in its infancy. "Everything is up for grabs," he notes, including the time of the year the show takes place.

First there's the 2002 show. The organization isn't offering the discounts it normally does to spur participation because NATPE is "already looking at an enormous loss coming out of this conference," Johansen explains. While declining to give specifics, he says NATPE also lost money at the 2001 show.

At this point, he hasn't done anything to get syndicators to change their minds. "I'm not crying here, but that's the reality. We can't cut costs more."

Regardless of the syndicators' mass exodus, "it's not going to disrupt the show," he promises. Most will be participating at NATPE in some way, with some executives set to headline panel discussions, for instance. And Columbia TriStar, Tribune Entertainment, Fremantle Media, MGM, NBC Enterprises, Hallmark, New Line Television, MTV Networks, CNN, Discovery, Lion's Gate Entertainment, Bloomberg, Sun Microsystems and Twentieth Television are all committed to be on the floor.