By Dom Serafini

The 45-year old NATPE has reached a crossroads, and the world’s financial crisis is not helping it in finding its right path. In this case, not even Yogi Berra’s advice can be of any help (“When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”). As it is known, next year will be NATPE’s last time in Las Vegas. By 2011 the market will need a new location. That year will also mark the end of NATPE president Rick Feldman’s recently renewed contract.

Before moving to other pressing issues, let’s say a few words about Rick. On April 23, 2003 he inherited a NATPE that was in really bad shape. Rick proved to be a great administrator. He restored NATPE’s financing and rebuilt the multimedia market it organizes.

That enormous task left him with no time for innovation. There were more pressing matters to deal with than the “vision thing.” But now is certainly not the time to leave the “vision thing” to a successor, while continuing to do what Rick’s most comfortable with: being a good steward and administrator. After all, the history books will certainly remember him as NATPE’s savior, so why risk altering that view with something untested?

The answer to that question could come from a recent headline in an Italian newspaper that caught my attention, “Only the Ancient is Modern.” The ancient Romans viewed progress as a return to a golden age. And what was NATPE’s golden age? In my view — and I’ve been covering NATPE since 1979 — NATPE shined the most when it was an all-suite event.

The realization that very few film and television executives prefer NATPE’s stand approach, is a no-brainer, but believe it or not, it’s exactly what NATPE is pushing, at the risk of alienating the remaining companies willing to exhibit. This reminds me of customers who enter a store to buy shirts and the salespeople insist on selling them shoes. Give the clients what they want, I say! Rick: after surviving seven years in a life-supported system, the market-stand concept at NATPE is now dead. Please accept that fact. Granted, with the suites approach NATPE stands to generate less revenue, but you’re a great administrator and facing this new problem is certainly less challenging than what you’ve already dealt with.

And the problem is not new. Complaints about NATPE’s booth approach started in 2001, curiously by Steve Rosenberg (see VideoAge, Feb. 2001 Issue), who was then president of Studio USA, part of the group for which Rick Feldman was COO of its USA Broadcasting division.

The stand approach is even disliked by those who can save money by grouping under an umbrella (like AFM members do), because exhibitors under a pavilion tend to steal each other’s buyers.

The third problem that Rick will have to solve (the first problem is how to eliminate the booth approach, the second how to get by with reduced revenues), is to select the correct new venue. This is no small matter, and to help in the selection let’s see what buyers like to have (after all, sellers will go anywhere buyers go).

Considering that NATPE is held in January, the first requirement is to be in a warm or temperate place. The second requirement is that the place is easily reachable by plane and, third, that it has inexpensive hotel accommodations. Finally, the venue has to offer a cozy environment, in order not to have participants spread out, discouraging the casual encounters so dear to participants.

The fact that NATPE will be smaller and (hopefully) have no stands, means that the number of good venues has increased (in the past, because of those humongous stands, only a few U.S. locations could accommodate NATPE).

In my view, the two venues that could catapult NATPE back to its golden age are Santa Monica, California, and Miami Beach, Florida. Both places are well liked by sellers and buyers alike. Naturally, both places present some problems. In Santa Monica, for example, the studios could bus the buyers to their lots. In Miami Beach, on the other hand, January is high season and thus accommodations are expensive and hard to come by. Plus, some fear the poor hotel service.

As to the former concern, a studio source reported that studios will not be going to the hassle of organizing another L.A. Screenings. Naturally, to be safe, Rick will have to wrangle strong commitments of proper behavior from the studios, perhaps through their association, the MPAA. But Santa Monica in January offers mild weather, inexpensive accommodations due to its off-season, and a city well prepared by the AFM.

Plus, with a reborn NATPE in Santa Monica, perhaps the AFM will get some of its own “vision thing” and merge with NATPE for a joint January-February film-TV market (and Rick can retire, knowing that he left his NATPE in good hands!).

Miami Beach is, naturally, a favorite of Latin American TV companies and the many Miami-based international distributors will surely reinvest some of their large savings into the market itself. For a locale, it’s worth it to explore the newly reopened Fontainebleau Resort, which has all the requirements that NATPE needs.

My fear, however, is that Rick will instead opt for San Francisco as NATPE’s next venue with the sole purpose of hoping to keep the stand concept on the life supported system. This, without doubt, will kill both what’s left of the market and his legacy.

And, since I’m making a list, the fourth and final fact that Rick has to face is the realization that, today, NATPE is exclusively an international TV market. Actually, domestic programming took a backseat at NATPE as far back as 1998 (VideoAge, February 1998), therefore the association shouldn’t antagonize its constituency with unrelated events.

Please follow and like us: