By Leah Hochbaum

Is NATPE still the place to be in January? VideoAge visited several exhibitors to find out if NATPE is indeed the weakest of the three major TV trade shows.

“It’s been busy,” said Kevin Byles, vice president and general manager of Canada’s Chum International. “I had three breakfast meetings and two lunches [on Wednesday]. But the meetings I’ve had here have been important and meaningful. There even seems to be good representation from the Middle East.”

Byles contends that NATPE is an important market for Chum, calling it “among the top three behind MIP-TV and MIPCOM,” but believes that it could be made better with a few relatively minor adjustments. “It’d be great if the convention was longer — a full week. You could deal with seminars and sessions on some days and meetings on other days.” But if Byles truly had his way, “I’d get everyone to return to the convention floor. Nothing’s better than being on the floor. You get a better sense of what’s going on. Plus,” he added, “why frustrate the buyers” and make them go to the convention center and the suites?

Jim Kraus, president of Carsey-Werner Domestic Television Distribution, said that NATPE was a successful few days for the independent distributor. The company sealed 16 deals to extend the end date of its Comedy Block — which includes The Cosby Show, Roseanne and Cosby spin-off A Different World — from 2008 to 2010 for stations in Chicago, Detroit, Knoxville, Albuquerque and Dayton.

And Kraus wasn’t the only one praising NATPE’s very existence. Cookie Jar Entertainment inked a deal with Cartoon Network Latin America for three of the company’s series, including Gerald McBoing Boing, Postcards From Buster and Johnny Test. The shows will debut later this year. “NATPE is great for Latin American buyers who can’t go to MIP or MIPCOM because of their finances,” said Olga Romero, who handles Cookie Jar’s Latin American broadcast sales. “NATPE helps us bring them up to speed.”

Romero spent most of her time in meetings, but said that if there had been time, she would have loved to attend the panels on new media. “That’s where things are going,” she said. “And Cookie Jar aims to reach kids in whatever environment they’re in — whether in front of a television or in front of a computer.”

Distraction president Michel Rodrigue concurred. “I would have liked to have attended the mobile panels because it’s interesting to me to see how it develops here in the United States, as compared to Europe. We’ve done a lot of mobile sales in Europe for the past few years. Here, people talk about it, but I haven’t yet seen a business model that makes sense.”

In addition to advancements in mobile television, Rodrigue would also like to see “more discussion of formats” — Distraction’s specialty — at NATPE. “People in the U.S. try to hide the fact that Deal or No Deal and American Idol are formats. I’d like to see more sessions on formats. I’d like for them to be promoted more.”

A more comprehensive survey of the value of seminars will be published in VideoAge’s MIP-TV editions (Issue and Dailies). Preliminary research indicates that overall, most of the conferences weren’t considered useful or enlightening. However, this is not only a problem that’s affecting NATPE, but most TV trade shows, all of which struggle to come up with meaningful line-ups of topics that are relevant to today’s TV challenges.

In addition, recent changes such as NATPE becoming a one-day market (when traditionally it was two days with exhibitors packing up on the third day) — as well as the fact that NATPE was pushed ahead by a week — caused some problems for exhibitors, notably those coming from territories where Christmas holiday celebrations don’t conclude until January 7.

Next Year, NATPE will be held on January 28 at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas.