As 2009 winds down, TV buyers are focusing on the New Year and the new programming budgets that will come with it, while sellers are wrestling with sales projections and market preparations. NATPE kicks off as the first market of the year, held January 25-27 at Las Vegas, Nevada’s Mandalay Bay resort. This edition of the convention marks NATPE’s last year in Vegas before it moves to Miami in 2011. In its final Vegas iteration, NATPE has switched from a convention floor format to a suite-based event, a change that many attendees see as a good thing. VideoAge caught up with Gary Lico, president and CEO of Norwalk, Connecticut-based Cableready Corp. and Duccio Donati, senior vice president of Los Angeles-based Comcast International Media Group to talk about whether NATPE’s shift to suites is a welcome change, as well as their expectations for the market’s last hurrah in Sin City.

VAI: How is NATPE shaping up for Cableready?

Gary Lico: For us, NATPE is always about seeing people, and that’s our major goal again this year. We’re also interested in meeting with producers, and there’s a ton of them there.

VAI: How is NATPE shaping up for Comcast International Media Group?

Duccio Donati: Things look okay. On the Latin side, it’s still rather well attended. On the rest of the world side, meaning Europe and Asia, it’s a little spotty with no real discernable attendance trend. But, we have some exciting stuff coming up, including definite expansion in the digital realm and quite a few big reality shows that will help us build a better year than 2009.

VAI: Do you expect more buyers than last year?

GL: To be honest, I don’t know. Last year was so strange. Things were just starting to happen with the recession, and business was just starting to decline. This year, business is getting a little better again. Plus, because of the switchover to digital, stations need programming to fill those extra channels. Regardless, the focus for us is on meeting with producers and cable subscribers.

DD: I think there’s probably going to be fewer buyers than last year. Latin America will still probably have a strong presence, but I expect a small drop off in the smaller territories in region. European attendance will probably decline.

VAI: Are you happy about the change from the convention format of past years to the hotel suites?

GL: My thoughts have always been, “Whatever makes it easiest for the buyers.” The move to the suites this year means a shorter walk from the hotels, which is much more convenient. NATPE organizers have always been good about hearing what attendees want. This year, they heard them with the suites, and they heard them loud and clear with next year’s move to Miami, which people are excited about.

DD: The buyers will be happy, which is what’s important. It was getting really hard for the buyers to get to and from the convention floor with the layout in Vegas being so huge. Overall, it will give a more intimate feel to the market.

VAI: In your view, is the TV business improving?

GL: It’s always two steps forward and one step back. Where the recession is concerned, I don’t think anything is bouncing back. Internet ad revenue is not where is should be yet, so there’s a lot of room for growth there. Overall though, the TV industry will never be what it once was because there are too few companies out there these days.

DD: I think it’s definitely recovering a bit from 2009. Like every industry, the first two quarters of 2009 caused a lot of panic and the spending stopped. You’re going to see the spending come back a little. But overall, there are other challenges for the TV industry apart from the economy, such as fragmentation of audiences and the future of digital media. But 2010 should be a better year.

VAI: What is your company’s growth area?

GL: Original product development. For the first time, we’re taking matters into our own hands and producing our own content where as we used to be buying it from other people.

DD: The channels continue to grow. On the Style side, we’re looking to grow the distribution of the Style Network. Where formats are concerned, we’re looking to expand into Latin America. There’s also a lot of growth in licensing. There is a lot more product coming through for Style, particularly for Latin America on a pan-regional basis. With respect to digital, you’ll see expansion as well.

VAI: Which Latin territory do you see improving or increasing?

GL: Pan-regional deals are really big right now. And Brazil, without a doubt, will be a growing region leading up to the Olympics in 2012.

DD: There is definitely growth in the pan-regional space for us. E! already has a presence there and there are a lot of opportunities for Style licensing in that area, because women’s lifestyle products are enjoying so much growth at the moment.

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