By Leah Hochbaum Rosner

With the Writers Guild of America’s (WGA) strike raging and a mass studio exodus from the floor, the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) conference is sure to be different this year. Taking place January 28-31 at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada, NATPE 2008 will offer a raft of panel discussions, keynote addresses and an expanded NATPE Mobile++ event.

VideoAge spoke with NATPE president and chief executive officer Rick Feldman to find out how the WGA walk-out is affecting this year’s market, whether the Latins or the independents will one day inherit NATPE, and what will happen when Feldman’s contract is up in 2009.

VAI: How will the writers’ strike impact NATPE? It is possible that it will actually be beneficial since NATPE is the best place for buyers to meet with studios?

RF: I’m not 100 percent sure how to answer that question, except to say that I can’t think of anything good that will come of it. People are not in a great mood. It’s been hard to attract people to speak, specifically about production. People are wondering what they’ll be doing in January and how it’ll all work out. It could be that they’re still on strike, so they’ll have time to come to the market. Or they could be going into production and they’ll be really busy. NATPE is about TV and this is not a great time for TV. I hope this thing gets resolved quickly. But it’s hard to know how and when the strike is going to end or how it’s really going to impact the industry. To me, it’s more of a minus than a plus, obviously.

VAI: What do you think about the studio situation at NATPE? Do you feel it’s important to try and lure the international divisions?

RF: We are a nonprofit that creates a market and conference for people in the business. We started 45 years ago and we are still the number one market in the U.S. At NATPE 2008, we expect 400 exhibitors and 8,000 people. No doubt I’d rather have a conference with CBS International and Domestic on the floor, as they were in previous years. And again, this isn’t necessarily what will happen in 2009. Some of the studios could be back on the floor or in the suites. But I don’t profess to tell studios how to do business or what’s good for them. Certainly, the market would be better with them.

VAI: You’re entering the second year of a three-year contract, after which you’ve said that you might want to retire. Will you?

RF: My contract runs out in May 2009. I’m going to table discussion of what will happen then until next spring. It’s premature for me to think about it, but I’m certainly not getting any younger. I have friends who retired at my age and they’re great, and I have friends who retired at my age and they’re looking for stuff to do. I’ve decided to wait and figure it out next year.

VAI: Is it possible that NATPE will become a Latin-focused market and move to Miami?

RF: No, we’re not considering that. The Latins are certainly an important and major group at NATPE, but we have people coming from over 70 different countries. Maybe someday we’ll decide to do another Latin-centric market in Miami, but we have no plans for that at this time. And as far as keeping NATPE in Las Vegas, it’s really the only place to have it. We want to keep it close to L.A. so people from the business can come in for a day or two. There’s a certain consistency to keeping the market in Vegas because it makes it easier for people to plan their time and schedule meetings. Plus, it’s tough to find alternatives. So for now, Vegas is where we should be.

VAI: The independents are assuming an important role at NATPE. Are there plans to move from a studio-dependent market to a market that depends on indies?

RF: The problem with independents is that the big get bigger. The second an indie starts growing, someone bigger comes to eat it. As a result, there aren’t that many major independents that remain independent for long. Consolidation is a big issue in the industry. As soon as a company gets successful, a bigger company comes along and buys it up.