YouTube to Charlie Sheen: NATPE grapples with content’s contracting, expanding future

Yes, Charlie Sheen, Hollywood may still be Photo: NATPE

Miami, FL, February 12, 2012  – Something was in the air at the recent 2012 NATPE Conference and Exposition at Miami’s legendary Fountainbleau Resort. It wasn’t the sunny balmy sea salt air, the lazy intensity of traditional Hollywood meet and greets at the tony resort’s poolside cabanas, or the yacht-housed studio hospitality suites.

It wasn’t even the invite-only NBC Universal Party at the Versace Mansion or a strangely tamed Charlie Sheen promoting his latest Lionsgate/Debmar-Mercury TV venture, “Anger Management.”

This year, NATPE has, like a phoenix, fully risen from the ashes. With more than 5,000 attendees – a 10% increase over last year’s figures - the iconic conference’s new energy – the result of a more focused industry direction and a mission – was palpable. In this, NATPE realized the results of an aggressive multi-year strategy to regain its standing and relevance in the entertainment industry. 

Now that strategy has finally paid off.

At the post-event wrap lunch for media, Rick Feldman, the president at CEO of NATPE, was clearly pleased with the increase in international buyers and sellers to this year’s conference. “When I went to see the sellers, everyone said that the people they wanted to see were here.” said Feldman.

In the course of its history, NATPE has seen its ups and downs but it remains a snapshot of what is happening in the content landscape. A microcosm of what content works and how it is monetized. A place of buying and selling of industry wares. A focus group on what’s hot and what’s not among television program executives and indie content creators.

Prior to the repeal of the fin/syn rules in the mid-1990s, NATPE had been the go-to destination for hundreds of independent producers to shop their creations. The old FCC rules had mandated networks to set aside 25% for programming supplied by independent producers and prevented the big six broadcast networks from taking an ownership interest the shows they aired. 

The rules created an atmosphere of intense competition and creativity that spawned some of TV’s most iconic programs – King World’s The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Wheel of Fortune, Carsey-Werner’s Cosby and Roseanne, and Paramount’s Frasier.

But after fin/syn’s repeal, all that changed. The networks could now produce, distribute, and syndicate their own in-house programming. 

Some production companies were absorbed by the big networks. CBS acquired King World and, after the Viacom merger, Paramount. The industry economics for indie powerhouses like Carsey-Werner stopped making sense. Consequently, by 2003, only a few independent producers of programs remained and NATPE’s days appeared numbered.

In order to survive in the mid-2000s, NATPE hitched its train to the global markets and the chaotic democracy of the new media space and it hasn’t looked back since.

NATPE is globally-orientated now and the big networks were only one part of the confab’s strategic fabric this year. Yes, media hoped between hospitality suites promoting a gaggle of post-Oprah era talk shows from the big networks - shows headlined by Ricki Lake, Katie Couric, and Steve Harvey. But the biggest buzz was reserved for Latin America, U.S. Hispanic markets and the telenovela format and, of course, the new media space – the place where independent producers have the most expansive opportunity to distribute – if not monetize - multiplatform content.  

NATPE is no longer catering to Hollywood as it had before. In fact, the conference’s move from Las Vegas to Miami Beach was one designed to facilitate European and Latin American producers and international distributors – its new bread and butter. No longer being coddled, Hollywood reacted with a more dynamic NATPE presence than it has had in previous years.

NATPE’s Feldman sums it up best. “NATPE’s moniker of ‘content first’ continues to resonate. Strong media brands in the global world continue to produce assets which more and more are enhanced by methods of engagement that create greater context for the viewers, resulting in increased audience attention.”

As long as content continues to be first, NATPE will be around for good. 

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