NATPE at 50: It’s all about the content

50th_anniversary_natpe_logo(Editor’s Note: Due to illness during the period NATPE took place this year, yours truly unfortunately was not able to write much about the conference. Oh well… there’s always 2014! – T.H.)

When the NATPE convention began in the spring of 1964, it began as a small gathering in a New York hotel.

Flash forward to 2013 – and after being held in venues in Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Las Vegas, and Miami (and yes, NATPE has never been held in Los Angeles), the organization – which stands for National Association of Television Program Executives – has never been stronger. NATPE has evolved from a convention whose main focus has changed from selling TV shows to a multiplatform conference, where people meet, network, and exchange ideas – particularly in the emerging area of digital content. While a lot of things have changed, one thing hasn’t – the ability to create and sell content, whether if its in syndication, internationally, or digitally (yours truly’s first brush with NATPE came in 1985 as a twelve-year old reading about this amazing conference in TV/Radio Age.)

This year’s conference once again took place in Miami at the Fountainbleau Hotel and Resort and aside from the long elevator waits (which were no doubt run by the Chicago Transit Authority), this year’s conference was a smashing success, with a “double digit” percentage rise in attendance, with the final tally expected to be between 5,000 and 6,000 satisfied attendees.

NATPE is returning to Fontainebleau in 2014, scheduled for January 27-29.


Mark Cuban gave the keynote address at NATPE on January 27 in an on-stage interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow. The billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner and HD Net (now AXS TV) founder remained high on traditional television even with the growth of digital video. Cuban believes live TV events (such as Super Bowl XLVII and The Grammys) can engage viewers on social media. Cuban didn’t really have kind words for YouTube, saying it and other video internet services are too fragmented to draw viewers to compete with the likes of cable – which he believes should not sold a la carte, since it would be too expensive for the consumer. Cuban believes viewers shouldn’t have to work for their entertainment, saying bundling packages would save consumers time.

Cuban also remarked people now talk to him more about ABC reality series Shark Tank (which he appears on) than the Mavericks.

To see more of Ms. Harlow’s interview with Mark Cuban (where he also kind of dissed Apple and Facebook), click here (and the clip is from from… YouTube.)

Modern Family creator (and Chicago native) Steven Levitan and Fraiser, Cheers, and Jeffersons writing veteran Peter Casey appeared in a panel on writing TV comedy at NATPE with Broadcasting & Cable’s Melissa Grego moderating. The duo talked about their careers, surviving in various writer’s rooms and how being a showrunner has changed in the social media era. Clips from the first episode of Fraiser and Modern Family were shown. To see the entire interview (which was terrific and a must-see for any aspiring comedy writer), click here.

– And Mr. Levitan’s day at NATPE didn’t end there. He and three others were received The Brandon Tarikoff Legacy Award, in a ceremony emceed by Access: Hollywood’s Billy Bush on January 28. Named after the revolutionary NBC programmer, the award (according to NATPE’s website) recognizes “…a select group of television professionals who exhibit extraordinary passion, leadership, independence and vision in the process of creating television programming and in evoking the spirit of Tartikoff’s generosity.” Other honorees included BET CEO Debra Lee; Cops creator John Langley; and Herbert G. Kliober, chairman of Tele Muchen Gruppen. To watch the entire ceremony, click here.

NATPE News and notes

While the amount of syndication news coming out of NATPE has dwindled over the years, there were still some items of note coming out of the 2013 show:

– Is Cedric The Entertainer heading to Millionaire? Disney-ABC is considering the idea to replace Meredith Vierra with “The Original Kings Of Comedy” comedian. Reports have surfaced that Cedric would receive only $1.6 million per year to host Millionaire, as opposed to the $9 million a year Vierra earned. Keep in mind Disney-ABC have yet to hold renewal talks with stations for next season, as contracts expire this September. Stay tuned…

– As expected, Twentieth Television’s Dish Nation got the green light to continue for a second season. The series, which features radio DJs riffing on the day’s hottest pop-culture stories, has seen ratings growth in total viewers, in adults 18-34, and all key male demos. Recently, Dish added KLOS-FM’s new Heidi & Frank morning show, which replaced the longtime Mark & Brian show on the Cumulus-owned station. Unlike other stations on Dish (who program a CHR, Hot AC, or Urban format), KLOS is a Classic Rock station, serving Los Angeles. Recently, B96’s J Niice and Showbiz Shelley did a stint on Dish, finally giving Chitown some rep. Dish airs on WFLD-TV at 5:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., where the show on January 22 hit an all-time ratings high.

– CBS Television Distribution announced its off-TV Land sitcom Hot In Cleveland with Betty White, has now been cleared in 92 percent of the country, which includes WCIU in Chicago.

Right This Minute, a daily half-hour strip featuring the best (or worst) videos on the web and the stories behind them, has switched distribution from Sony Pictures Television to MGM. The show currently airs in about 50 markets, but has yet to clear Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles.

– Though announced before NATPE, daily newsmagazine strip America Now is hooking up with Debmar-Mercury to distribute the show. The show is hosted by former Entertainment Tonight anchor Leeza Gibbons and Orland Park native Bill Rancic.

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