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NATPE: The Large And The Small Of It All

FatKat Animation had its first booth at NATPE in 2007. All images courtesy of Sarah Bailey unless otherwise noted.

Things were running hot and cold, figuratively and quite literally, at NATPE 07 held Jan. 15-18 at the Mandalay Bay Resort Convention Center in Las Vegas. Las Vegas was experiencing one of its worst cold spells with frozen ice on the desert iceplant and icicles hung from the rafters of many hotels. However, inside in the tower where many of the Latin American buyers and distributors preferred hospitality suites to the convention floor, a fire broke out on the fourth floor, forcing the evacuation of the participants for nearly three hours.

One exhibitor allowed a goodie bag to drift to close to a candle burning in the bathroom, which set off the sprinklers in part of that wing. It had to have been nerve-racking for the MTV Networks Latin America group just on the other side of the suite where the fire started. Roughly a year ago, the rain-soaked roof at MIP had come crashing down on the MTV Networks booth, destroying the booth and scattering buyers and sellers to makeshift rooms at hotels to try to conduct business. This time MTV/Nick came through unscathed and was able to get back in time for its scheduled cocktail party that evening.

The size and excitement generated by major networks and studios in the past has cooled off considerably for the market, but the action for selling to Latin America has heated up considerably. The major TV industry trades have dwindled in size as the ad dollars have gone to making the Latin American TV trades quite substantial and prominent at the show.

The first National Association of Television Program Executives Conference, better known as NATPE, had a humble beginning in May of 1962 at the New York Hilton Hotel with 71 registrants, mostly programming directors from U.S. television stations. Today it has grown into an international event with more than 7,500 participants and a look at all media, both large and small.

When those 71 programming execs entering the two-day conference in 1962 they were looking for shows to fill their time blocks, because back then local stations had a lot of time they programmed. Cartoons became a mainstay for the after school block and Saturday morning was for kids-only viewing. Programmers were looking for shows that would satisfy the needs of their advertisers, like Mattel, General Foods and Hasbro. Indie producers could sell direct and television syndication was born.

NATPE became huge, attracting networks that were looking for affiliates, local stations looking for content to air and producers with great ideas for television. In the hey-day of independent television, NATPE was a once-a-year, one-stop shop. New show concepts emerged from the floor and legends, like Oprah, Wheel of Fortune and Scooby-Doo were made in syndication.

In its 40th year, NATPE, this year, is reflecting the major changes that have occurred in the television industry in the last 10 years. Among the "majors," a term lovingly used for the big networks and big production companies, the numbers have shrunk dramatically.

It took two large exhibit halls to house NATPE Today, only one modest size exhibit space at the Mandalay Bay Resort Hotel is needed and a massive amount of hotel suites in The Hotel next door.

In the past Paramount, CBS, Nickelodeon and King World each had their own massively impressive displays. Now they are all housed under one banner. Universal and NBC stood separately until last year. ABC was all by itself and now shares space with Disney, its owner. These mergers and acquisitions have shrunk the presence on the conference floor.

Networks now have almost all of the independent stations already locked in as affiliates in the U.S. and through their production companies, they supply their affiliates programming to cover almost all day parts. The demand for syndication has shrunk in the U.S. And many other global conferences compete with NATPE. But business at NATPE was still being done this January.

Toon Farm had a big display for their animated show, The Jammies.

Everyone attending hopes that they will sell something big and all are looking for their buyers. Networks and distributors are still selling a few shows to independent television groups in the U.S. but they are now relying on selling shows to foreign markets, such as Latin America, which has a growing presence at NATPE. Distributors are looking to sell their catalog shows to networks and stations. Independent producers are looking to reach the same buyers, as well as finding distributors.

Then there are those that are taking their one big shot to bring their show to market with hopes someone will recognize it, be it co-producers, distributors or the almighty network. But something was missing from this year's exhibit floor, the plethora of animation producers.

One of the only animation producers to present on their own was from Toon Farm. The producers had a sizable display for their animated show, The Jammies. William "Dolla" Chapman II, co-ceo, was there looking for co-production partners for this hip hop-based animated series, along with a couple of his live-action shows.

Major animation distributors were there. Toei, TMS Ent. and Enoki, amongst others, from Japan had booths. DIC Ent. and Sesame Workshop were on the floor, selling shows. DECODE Ent. and Cookie Jar Ent. from Canada had booths. Stalwarts like Porchlight, Mar Vista and Classic Media all took their usual spots.

Some independent producers like FatKat Animation's Andrew Dunn, vp business developments mouse catcher, announced the Canadian creative company was introducing their distribution division at NATPE. But distributors like Taffy Ent. were missing.

The rumor on the floor was the animation and kids programming were all heading to the KidScreen Summit in February in New York City. Seasoned regulars still see it as an important means to keep face-to-face contact with clients and potential partners and buyers between MIPCOM and MIP-TV.

But animation had a decent presence. Many of the distributors from around the world showed they embraced animation as a viable commodity with many displaying one or two properties for sale, along side their reality programming and dramas.

Whip Cracking Prods. gm Phil Bradsheet (right) came all the way from Australia to promote the series Action Dann's Outback Adventures, starring Troy Dann.

Phil Bradsheet, gm of Whip Cracking Prods. in Australia, had a booth there, promoting Action Dann's Outback Adventures, a live-action series with animated graphics and interstials bringing to life Aussie stories most adults from there had gown up on.

Animation production studios sent representatives to walk the floor to see if there is any service work to be had. First timer Robert Bruza, managing partner of Big Bag Tomato, a creative media company from Los Angeles, and Rocket Fish, a new Flash studio from Malaysia, hit the floor with hopes, but no appointments. He came to scope out the event for the future and to look for the potential of both service work and for co-production opportunities.

Also roaming the floor were animation creators with content to pitch to anyone and everyone who could help co-produce or invest in. Drew Tolman, a writer, with her partner Carolyn Scott, made a last minute decision to troll with their development Penguin Play Date. The rules for any major market, like this, is to have appointments and then hope to get those plumb chance meetings while walking from point A to point B. But this leaves very little to chance.

Robert J. Feeney, president/co-founder of Vergence Ent., has invested heavily in getting the look and elements together for a series he pretty much has the financing for. Deciding against trying to ramp up a studio from scratch, he was seeking a production partner and, of course, buyers for the original property.

Somesh Pallwal, founder of Dmpanimatioons in New Delhi knew he was embarking on a hard task, looking for buyers for his 3D preschool show, Eelif Annt, many because most channels say they have enough preschool. He did not take a booth, but wandered the floor or participant lounge, with a demo on his laptop. The show, about a lazy and adorable young elephant and his busybody tiny ant pal was delightful, with good designs, bright pleasing color palette and smooth action.

Then again, the space, and less hectic pace made it easier to find the many strolling buyers and those who did exhibit stood out. Cindy Kerry, vp of programming and acquisitions, Cartoon Network & Boomerang Latin America was enjoying herself enormously and said she welcomed to the time to have longer talks and chance encounters. She was on a big buying mission, looking for lots of movies for her channels, as well as more TV series. When she heard about how well the Eelif Annt played from AWN, she asked for Pallwal's contact information, thus demonstrating the potential of NATPE.

Enrique Pinerua was showcasing The Danger Rangers for Education Adventures on the exhibit floor. He is quite happy with the growth of Latin American channels broadcasting animation and kids shows, such as Nick Latin America, Cartoon Network & Boomerang Latin America, Jetix Latin America, Discovery Kids Latin America and The Disney Channel Latin America.

NATPE has embraced convergence and now reflects the need for content for all of the new media, from the mega plasmas in the living room to the micro screen on the cell phone. Kicking off NATPE a day early was NATPEMobile++, series of panel discussions, produced by C21's FutureMedia, held on Jan. 15.

Even though this conference had "mobile" in the title, it was about the whole gamut of next generation media and how it will be used. Acronyms such as IPTV, VOD, ITV were buzzing around the room, and, ultimately the NATPE Exhibit floor the next day, with booths touting the tag line of "monetization."

Somesh Pallwal, founder of Dmpanimatioons in New Delhi, (left) and Cindy Kerry, vp of programming and acquisitions, Cartoon Network & Boomerang Latin America.

The panels assembled for this special event examined how each of the next generation media is functioning currently and will function in the U.S. in the future. But the big question on everyone's mind is how is the new media going to generate money.

The panels defined what will be the difference between the devices and how they will be used for downloading. The consensus is the mobile device will be used for local news, weather and sports, just like we use radio today. Mobile will not be the place where full-length features are regularly watched.

Among those on the panel, "Executive Download --Trendsetting Digital Media Initiative," the consensus is the consumer needs to get used to the downloading and needs to get used to the devices before instituting a charge for downloading and use. One phenomenon that was pointed out by Scott Mills, cfo/president of BET Digital Media, is that African-Americans (as well as Latinos) download more content to their cell phones much more then the average user. Because of this, BET is looking for more content to fill the need and is now paying for content to be developed.

Cyriac Roeding, vp wireless, CBS, presented, "10 Hypotheses for the Future," during the CBS Keynote presentation. Roeding looked at what we perceive the use of the next generation media will be, and his theories of how it will be used in 10 years from now. He hypothesizes that Hollywood will converge with Silicon Valley. Tivo and DVR will not be needed in 10 years, because we will download directly to our phones and computers and we will program what we want to watch and when, by just plugging in your phone or computer direct to the television set.

Enrique Pinerua, who promoted The Danger Rangers for Education Adventures on the exhibit floor, is pleased with the growth of Latin American channels.

There will be a blur between user-generated content and professionally produced content. Users will decide using bi-directional screens. The real choice will be by the consumer. Content will follow the user, but the cell phone will not be a TV. He agrees that the cell phone will be used for local information and sports.

Roeding says platforms, not schedules, will dictate what the consumer watches. A producer in the future will not only create for the plasma screen in the consumers' living rooms, but will have to create new content based on the brand for the Internet as well as something different based on that brand for cell phones.

Advertising will exist on all platforms to persuade. The cell phone will be the device the consumer will use to select and download VOD (video on demand) through advertising on the phone. Once these selections are made, the consumer then plugs the phone into the television and will watch what their selection at the time they choose.

Roeding did conclude that all this might be just hype, but the consumer is changing and so is the media.

The wireless day was organized by a different organization this year, and focused on mobile. The general feeling of attendees was last year's presentation, including more about IPTV, imparted much more information, and that this one could have been honed down to half a day.

There are mixed feelings about NATPE and its future among those attending this year. Those who have been in television and still in television, like Jerry Diaz of Salsa Ent., see the assembly as a must-attend function to catch up on sales and clients. Those in new media feel that perhaps there are conferences that better suit their needs.

For most of its 40 years, NATPE has been a go-to place for television programming in the U.S. Today, NATPE is competing with international television conferences in Europe and Asia. NATPE is evolving with the change from syndication to convergence.

As the new platforms mature and revenue streams are established, there will be a need for content. When there is a need for content there will be a need for NATPE.

Jan Nagel, the entertainment marketing diva, is a consultant involved in the business of animation and visual effects since 1991. She represents creative producers and productions companies worldwide, Blanca Ruiz, Jim Keeshen Prods., AGOGO Corp. Hong Kong, as well as being a frequent guest lecturer on the subject of the business of animation. She is also a founding member and current president of Women in Animation International.

Sarah Baisley is the editor-in-chief of Animation World Network.

Jan Nagel's picture
Jan Nagel, Entertainment Marketing Diva