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Off to the Venetian

There's a rival market facing NATPE 2002: Las Vegas's Venetian Resort and Casino. Eight major syndicators have opted out of the convention exhibit floor, their regular NATPE stomping grounds, and virtually all plan to set up shop at the Venetian to save money in this rough economic climate.

NATPE organizers continue to cite floor stalwarts as proof that January's conference won't be a bust. But, last week, Studios USA and Twentieth Television, both previously committed to booth space, decided to leave for the Venetian and an undecided hotel location, respectively.

Moreover, insiders say, NBC Enterprises and Columbia TriStar Television, declared friends of the floor, are wavering on whether to stay or go. At press time, only a handful of major syndicators—FremantleMedia, Tribune Entertainment, MGM and Lions Gate Entertainment—were insisting that they'll go about NATPE business as usual.

Today's tough times, aggravated by the recent tragedy, make it "imperative that we do everything possible to cut costs," explained Studios USA Domestic Television President Steve Rosenberg. "We found it very difficult to justify the expense." That sentiment was echoed by executives at other studios heading to the Venetian, including Paramount Domestic Television, King World, Buena Vista, Warner Bros. Domestic Television, Carsey-Werner and Universal.

It's hard to say how much the defectors will save at the Venetian. Standard suites go for $129 to $399 a night, and luxury suites can cost as much as a $1,000 a night. But many syndicators believe that it has to be less than the $1 million-plus most spend to build their booths. Lions Gate, one of the few staying put, apparently did fine, though, spending less than $100,000 on its booth last January.

But costs (and Italian geography) aside, as so many sign up for the Venetian, it's hard not to adopt a "do as the Romans do" attitude.

"It gets a little more complicated when no one else is there," says a source about one studio's recent uncertainty about exhibiting. The consolidation of the syndication business, the source adds, suggests that NATPE "needs to rework itself. The big booths and everything else have seen their time and gone."