NATPE (National Association of Television Programming Executives) has been the marketplace for the trading of television shows to domestic and international outlets since May of 1962. The evolution of NATPE has been put into high speed in the last several years in order to establish a new direction.
The Financial Syndication Act of 1994 deflated the syndication market, which was NATPE's prime function. NATPE brought television stations, station groups, networks and producers together to fill those local access times with unique and popular programming. Oprah, Dr. Phil, Jeopardy and Judge Judy can thank today's version of syndication for their success. But prior to 1994, animation was a huge seller and reigned equally next to live action at NATPE. Stations bought up anything new and unique for their kid audience, knowing Mattel, Hasbro and General Foods would follow with lucrative ad dollars for the local market.
The evolution is apparent. NATPE is now a Mobile, Latin American, Multi-Platform, Interactive Television and Content show. The conference, which took place January 28-31, is smaller now; as in years past, it was held in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center -- the hotel in Las Vegas. Animation and kids entertainment is scarcer in KidsTown Pavilion on the convention floor because it is being wooed away by other markets.
NATPE is redefining itself with multi-platform technology. NATPE MOBILE++, presented by Achilles Media, Ltd. and NATPE, is the preview event. This one-day conference has for the last few years presented the true meaning of "convergence." Last year it was predicted that the mobile phone would be our television remote control 10 years in the future; this year there was an announcement that there are smart phones that are providing remote control capabilities right now. NATPE MOBILE++ sets the tone for NATPE's future.
NATPE MOBILE ++ concentrated on the technology and not on the content. Yet content producers such as Kate Holowach of Canada's Rantdog Inc. said she was there to find co-production partners and outlets for her original animated show, Rantdog, which is already playing on ShockwaveAtomFilms.com and MTV in the United States. MOBILE++ didn't provide an immediate answer to her need, but it did give her an idea of the technology she will have to produce for now and in the future.
Techno talk was not limited to NATPE MOBILE ++ -- it was the subject of more than half the panels and seminars. From interactive audience and mobile content, to IPTV and the TV marketplace, NATPE helped attendees immerse themselves in digital.
Viva Latin America
At the same time NATPE has also become the biggest and best place for Latin American stations, networks and producers to congregate. In years past, it was whispered that NATPE was the Latin American marketplace, but this year is was the very reason many animation companies attended.
Gianluca Bellomo, general manager of Cartoon One of Italy, and sponsor of KidsTown Pavilion, said this was Cartoon One's first time presenting with a booth. They went all out, not only sponsoring the Pavilion, but also including DVDs in all the attendees' bags in the hope their properties would attract "American" buyers, including Latin America and the U.S. Cartoon One has many international co-productions ready for sale, including School for Vampires, a hit on French, German and Italian television; Red Caps, which is being supported by UNICEF and will be ready in November; and Buttercup Wood, a CGI/HD co-production with Hong Kong's Agogo.
Agogo's Steven Ching attended NATPE to support his co-productions with Cartoon One and Cookie Jar. In addition to Buttercup Wood, Agogo is co-producing Kung Fu Dino Posse with Cookie Jar and Cartoon One, and Nanoboy with Cookie Jar and Scrawl Studios of Singapore. Ching has had booths at NATPE in past years, but this year hoofed it between Cookie Jar, located at a table in the Canadian Pavilion, and Cartoon One. Toper Taylor, the CCO of Cookie Jar, was leading his slate with Magi-Nation, currently airing on Kids' WB! and CBC.
Toei Animation was pitching the #1 show in Japan, Pretty Cure, which is being supported by a girls' card game by Bandei. Kaz Yamashita, director, general administration and licensing for Toei, said season one of Pretty Cure was already sold to Televisa in Mexico and that he was selling it to the rest of Latin America. He also hoped the rest of his slate, including Master Hamsters and Gegege No Kitaro, would sell to international markets, including Latin America. He said NATPE, where his targets included Televisa, Globo and Telefey, was not as effective for reaching the U.S. market as it was for Latin American markets. He said he can reach the U.S. networks through email and FTP.
BKN sat high in the hotel's suites, the center of the Latin action and the place to meet the "majors." Irene Civico, licensing manager of BKN's Spanish studio, was there drumming up Latin American buyers for Zorro Generation Z and Dork Hunters From Outer Space, two new animated series. Stressing NATPE's importance, Civico said that it was "a perfect place to meet the Latin American stations." Meanwhile, APA International Film Distributors was a busy booth on the Mandalay Bay convention floor, promoting lots of Spanish-language product and animation. President Rafael Fusaro brought an old favorite, Mafalda, an animated series produced in 1986 in Mexico, based on a comic strip that's 40 years old. This show has been sold around the world and is an international favorite, according to Fusaro.
"NATPE is the curl of the wave," said Kevin Gillis, exec producer and managing partner at Breakthrough Animation. "You get the splash here before it goes public." He has Atomic Betty going into a third season with a new twist in the story -- and Atomic Betty will be going multi-platform. Captain Flamingo will be going strip on Jetix/Toon Disney and is also headed to the mobile market. The Captain Flamingo web-based games, under the control of Breakthrough's New Media division, are award winning and there will be new ones coming in season three. Gillis says he always comes out of NATPE with new relationships and new ideas; some of them work and some don't, but they are all great. This year he was also looking to woo Latin American buyers with his popular animated shows.
Another stalwart distributor and producer was the ever-present PorchLight Ent. Each year CFO William Baumann and his team man a booth to present their kids and family fare. In addition to selling animated series such as Gofrette, a preschool show co-produced with Subsequence and Zoe Mae, they were also looking for content for Kidvideos.com, a YouTube-style site for kids they are launching.
Mark Simon, an animator and contributor to AWN.com, started NATPE with a win. He landed a contract with Youzuu, a mobile-content distributor, the opening morning. Walking around the convention floor, he was looking for the animation and thought the floor looked smaller and less crowded than in the past on opening day. He considered this an advantage because he could take longer meetings and have less rushing.
Showcase Ent. and Konnie Kwak, vice-president of production and co-production, introduced their new kids' division, Showcase For Kids. They were promoting their animated series Ape Escape, a Nicktoon/Frederator/Hawiian Film Partners co-production. FatKat, from Canada, had a couple of shows to promote in their booth. Andrew Dunn, vice-president of business development, was chatting up Three Delivery, a new Flash series from YTV/Nickelodeon/BBC/Animation Collective, and Space Knights, a new pilot. Dunn says NATPE is an important place to start relationships, meet buyers and have contact with the industry.
NATPE proves to be a great place to debut companies and properties. This year there were a few new players occupying booths, where they were seeking partners, distributors and buyers.
Salvatore Cavalieri, president and CEO of Cilantro Animation Studios, has a couple of adult-orientated CGI properties that speak to a Latino/American acculturated audience. He is seeking co-production for Johnny The Roofer and La Carta, and NATPE was his place to start.
Deos Animation Studios has a successful award-winning PBS series, Ribert & Robert's Wonderworld, which they are promoting for wider distribution. President and CEO Michael DeVitto is looking at launching Wonderworld.tv, a new website "where kids love to learn and learn to love!" Deos was also promoting The Hidden Treasures of Wompkee Wood, a Deos Animation production in association with The Wompkee LLC, which MarVista is distributing. And he was promoting his Structured Animation Method (S.A.M.), a new production method and the only animation technology featured at the conference.
Lincoln Butterfield Animation is a unique animation studio that introduced themselves and several properties this year at NATPE. Exec producer and founder Robert Hughes and his team of producers brought Tan, an anime kung fu spoof for kids, and a couple of adult properties, When in Rome and Adventure Probe. Hughes was seeking co-production and distribution for their properties and deemed NATPE a good place to do this.
NATPE was also the place for other associations and organizations to meet. Interactive Television Alliance (ITA), helmed by Allison Dollar, brought content producers and technology as a collective to NAPTE. In the invitation-only lounge, A-list producers and major advertising brands met with prescreened potential partners. This was all for interactive television content. Gigi Johnson, of Studio 4 Networks, which bills itself as a virtual DVD shelf for kids' entertainment, and Ed Forman and Robert Gonsalves, of ICTV, an early pioneer in interactive television, were side by side during an ITA presentation, demonstrating the line between technology and content is blurring.
Judging from the headlines, NATPE 2008 still proves to be the place where deals are struck and producers go with the hopes of getting their properties sold for the world to see. NATPE is providing these sales forces with "global" opportunities -- to blend technology, TV and global markets. Viva NATPE!
Jan Nagel, the Entertainment Marketing Diva, is a consultant who has been involved in the business of animation and visual effects since 1991. She represents creative producers and production companies worldwide, including Small World Animation, Santo Domingo Films, and Jim Keeshen Productions, as well as being a frequent guest lecturer on the subject of the business of animation. She is also a founding member and president emeritus of Women in Animation International.