So the folks returning from NATPE are telling me that “this will be the last year of NATPE as we know it”. Because they say NATPE couldn’t fill the floor space so the powers-that-be will eliminate it next year. Once upon a time, that floor space had quite a storied tradition when independents like King World and Rysher and the major studios took giant booths. “It used to be P.T. Barnum when everyone was there — Jerry Springer, Barbara Walters, Oprah. Remember when Wolfgang Puck used to cook?,” one of sources recalls. Then, about 5 years ago, studios slowly stopped participating and exorbitantly paying, culminating when Warner Bros’ Telepictures took a series of hotel suites and did meetings with affiliates there instead of on the floor. NATPE tried to turn the corner by attracting the digital biz and making it into a crossover convention. But then the dot.com bubble burst, and NATPE was never able to replace those companies on the floor. Then the TV syndication business just atrophied. I’m told Warner Bros went so far as to suggest to prez/CEO Rick Feldman that NATPE give free floor space to the majors in an effort to attract independent distributors in the same way that department stores anchor shopping malls. But he said no. This year,  pretty much only CBS Television Distribution (aka Paramount Domestic Television as it was known before CBS and Viacom split) stayed loyal and on the floor. NBCU Television Distribution was also on the floor promoting the fall launch of The Office. Now NATPE is about to be a casualty of the economy. “It’s not official yet, but it will be official that the floor space will be gone next year,” my insider tells me. “Studios will still have suites, but NATPE will be downsized tremendously.”