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Where everybody knows your nametag

If you grew up a Cleveland Indians fan when 4,000 fans sat just about wherever they wanted at the old 75,000-seat Municipal Stadium, or ever laughed alone at a funny movie in an empty theater, you might feel at home at NATPE this week.

Let's put it this way: Good tickets are still available.

Industry consolidation, a recession and, generally, a lack of product will likely mean that, this week in Las Vegas, the usual throng of 17,000 or so will be down to 12,000. Many attendees won't speak English very well: Before the convention spun downward in domestic numbers, it was rising majestically as an international show, and that still appears to be generally true this year.

What won't be there, besides many of you, is the glitz, the glamour and many of the stars of syndication hits. "So Not Fun, It's Not Funny," sighed the headline over media writer Brian Lowry's column in The Los Angeles Times
last week, as he lamented a scaled-down NATPE. Once upon a time, he recalled, "NATPE assumed a carnival-like atmosphere. There were armadillo races, staged wrestling matches, even one company that paid to have a program's logo printed on toilet paper throughout the convention center."

Curiously, at other conferences that also had attendance problems in the past year, the panels seemed more lively, as if the speakers weren't really aware that their comments were being picked up by microphones and pesky trade scribes. One can hope NATPE panels will have the same let-it-all-hang-out attitude.

This year, NATPE has some interesting panels, too. On Tuesday, news and television-station executives take a look at the impact of media deregulation on local operations; earlier in the day, ABC's Ted Koppel gets the NATPE Chairman's Award for Nightline, even though, ironically, Koppel fought tooth and nail for years to get ABC affiliates to air his interesting news show instead of … well, the syndicated programs peddled at NATPE.

On Wednesday, television programming heavyweights—including Turner's Garth Ancier, NBC's Ed Wilson and Pax's Jeff Sagansky—will extol the brave future world of rampant program repurposing; presumably, some local station executives listening in won't be as excited. Also on Wednesday, NATPE addresses product placement on television shows in a panel called "Hand Me a Beer and Other Stories of TV Product Integration."

A full agenda is on page 42, and BROADCASTING & CABLE will publish daily editions this Tuesday and Wednesday from Las Vegas. See you there. At least a few of you.