In the wake of the third year without a NATPE Market and Conference, syndicators and station groups gathered at the Fox lot in Los Angeles last week at an event initiated by Fox.
The off-the-record two-day event, called The Summit, was supported by other major distributors, including Debmar-Mercury, CBS Media Ventures, Sony Pictures Television and Warner Bros. Discovery, and was attended by station group executives from such groups as Sinclair Broadcast Group, Fox Television Stations, CBS News & Stations, NBCUniversal Local, Weigel Broadcasting, Nexstar Media Group, Scripps, Tegna, Standard Media, Cox Media Group, Hearst Television and more.
Unlike NATPE, the event was solely dedicated to issues faced by syndicators — who develop, produce and sell syndicated programming — and their TV-station buyers. In recent years, NATPE had expanded to include content producers and buyers both domestically and globally since the waning syndication business did not throw off enough revenue to support an entire conference.
“For me, the event was narrow in a really good way,“ Mort Marcus, co-president, Debmar-Mercury, said. “The only people who were there were people we wanted to talk to. I was on a panel and the people in the audience were broadcasters who would stand up and ask questions. We had healthy and collaborative industry discussions on both days.”
During the course of the event, the executives in attendance had frank discussions about such topics as exclusivity, multiplatform distribution, programming costs and other factors.
“There’s a tension between the station groups and the syndicators,” said Stephen Brown, executive VP, programming and development, Fox Television Stations and Fox First Run. “The syndicators need to find revenue sources to cover the deficits in advertising revenues, while the stations are saying, ‘We are giving you valuable time and, in some cases, money, so we want to have some kind of exclusivity.’ There’s a natural tension there but that can be worked out. We had the beginnings of conversations in the open that we normally don’t have.”
Fox et al were so happy with the event and the frank conversations it encouraged that they hope to hold it again next year and expand it.
“I think it went really well and I’d like to continue doing it,” Steve LoCascio, president, CBS Media Ventures, said. “We need to trust each other and we need to try something different. The half-hour format for Drew was really different and partnering with Fox on Pictionary was another example.”
Whether syndicators and station group executives will attend such an event rather than a rebooted NATPE under new ownership remains to be seen. In January, Canadian company Brunico Communications, which produces such events as the Realscreen and Kidscreen Summits and the Banff World Media Festival, announced it had acquired the assets of the bankrupt association, reportedly for $150,000 plus outstanding debt. Brunico has said it plans to run NATPE Budapest in June and then bring NATPE back next January. ■
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Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.