As the 55th edition of NATPE begins Tuesday morning in Miami, the syndication business that long served as its heartbeat continues to show a faltering pulse. No new shows are getting a splashy, Oprah-esque rollout this time, a departure from what was once was an annual ritual complete with over-the-top parties and promotional blitzes.
Even so, the conference has managed to stabilize itself by bulking up offerings in streaming video, unscripted programming and local TV, rebounding after lean years when many in the industry thought it might vanish entirely. One key of its resilience has been the decision in 2011 to hold it annually in Miami, an important hub of international business.
“In the last 10 years, the world has changed significantly, as technology has allowed streaming and local buyers want more indigenous content,” Alon Shtruzman, CEO of Keshet, the Israeli production and distribution outfit behind shows such as Homeland and The A Word, told Deadline. “For us, NATPE became a great market for Latin America. NATPE was reborn thanks to the Latin American and Hispanic market.”
This year’s edition will feature keynote appearances by Sony Pictures Entertainment chief Tony Vinciquerra, Facebook global strategy head Ricky Van Veen and indie mogul Byron Allen, among others. The Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards, named for the NBC programming legend, will go to Jane Fonda, Tom Selleck, TNT/TBS president Kevin Reilly, NBCUniversal international leader Cesar Condé and producer Greg Berlanti. CAA and We TV will once again team for the Reality Breakthrough Awards honoring unscripted shows.
All of the recent headway has come as the syndication business continues to struggle. Ira Bernstein, co-president of the Lionsgate-owned Debmar-Mercury, blames a “clogged pipeline at the affiliates of CBS, ABC and NBC given several long-running and low-rated shows on their schedules.” And yet Debmar’s portfolio, anchored by the likes of Wendy Williams and Family Feud, proves that there is still profit to be made.
“Everyone is saying, ‘Oh, woe is me, what happened to the market?'” Bernstein said. “There’s really only one answer: produce better shows.”
There are certainly still going to be attempts made — new shows in various stages feature Viveca Fox and Jane Lynch and former NBC News anchor Tamron Hall. The new entries are eyeing the prime schedule slot of NBC’s sophomore variety talk show starring Harry Connick Jr., which faces likely cancellation after struggling in the ratings.
As the traditional syndication sector has declined due to myriad changes in viewer habit and industry programming strategy, some new twists have arisen. Discovery Communications also raised a flag Monday with the announcement that its ID network has launched True Crime Files with major station groups Sinclair and Tribune on board. Debmar-Mercury is teaming with former Disney CEO Michael Eisner to shop Netflix animated comedy Bojack Horseman in syndication, the first time a streaming original has sought a cable home.
Plus, syndicators and programmers are operating in a rapidly evolving media environment, with pending deals between Disney and Fox, Sinclair and Tribune, and AT&T and Time Warner all weighing heavily on the minds of everyone who will be in Miami.
“We’re in an interesting time because station groups and media companies are getting bigger,” Bernstein said. “So the question for everybody is, how do you adjust to the changes in the marketplace?”
One response to consolidation has been local station groups using their resources to produce their own programming, which offers a degree of control instead of shelling out hefty sums for unproven national concepts.
Deb McDermott, former COO of Media General who now runs her own consultancy, sees NATPE as a prime environment for local TV stations and will lead the Station Group Forum, a recently added track at the show. While it operates under the radar, the station sector is a key arena for media figures like Rupert Murdoch as he develops New Fox.
Stations are under more stress than ever in today’s high-tech landscape, but they also have a key advantage, McDermott believes: ATSC 3.0. The new broadcast standard, enthusiastically endorsed by TV trade groups, will enable broadcasts to be layered with interactivity and deeper information.
“We’re going to leapfrog into an IP world where the experiences for the audience and the opportunities for our advertisers are going to be huge,” McDermott said.