Miami Beach-based programme market NATPE celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. And all the indications are that it is in rude health. A record numbers of buyers, a sold out sign over the exhibition floor and a big-name conference programme are just a few of the headlines that should make Miami Five-0 a very happy birthday for the event’s organisers reports Andy Fry.
A decade ago, things didn’t look so cheery for NATPE, but CEO Rod Perth says a lot of effort has gone into reinvigorating the market: “The increased attendance (5000-plus) is recognition that NATPE isn’t just a robust market, it’s a catalyst for interaction between the linear and digital worlds. Our conference will bring together 200 expert panellists from TV and digital media. It’s not easy to put together a programme of that calibre, but it shows that NATPE is determined to stay relevant and ahead of the curve. We want it to be the location that brings Hollywood, international, digital, distribution and advertisers together.”
For a lot of observers, the revival in NATPE’s fortunes began in 2011 when Perth’s predecessor Rick Feldman took the decision to move the market to Miami from Las Vegas. “It was a risk,” acknowledges Perth, “because some of our partners in Los Angeles weren’t happy about the extra travel involved. But it was a decision that has helped jump-start the market.”
One immediate benefit was that it moved NATPE closer to Latin America and Hispanic US at a time when companies from that part of the world were starting to have a major impact as exporters of shows, not just as buyers. This year will see heavyweights like Globo, Telemundo, TV Azteca and Televisa in town with large slates and high expectations.
Televisa will showcase its latest telenovela, The Lady From Vendaval, a MaPat Production about a woman trying to save her ranch.
No less significant, adds Perth, is that “Miami is one of the best places in the world to have a market like this. The Fontainebleau Resort where the event takes place has just undergone a $1 billion renovation which makes it terrific place to entertain clients and host a market/conference.”
This is the third year NATPE will have been in Miami and the impact is evident in the delegate statistics for 2013: “The single most important ingredient for a vibrant market is the number of qualified buyers that attend,” says Perth. “Two weeks before the market, we were running ahead of our buyer figure for last year, with increases coming from Asia, India and Australia. There’s also a growing number of companies looking for content to fill new windows created by digital platforms.”
The presence of buyers has brought a response from leading content owners. It was the big US studios’ decision to pull out of NATPE that threatened to render the market redundant, but now they are all back. In addition, says Perth, 27 of the market’s 300 exhibitors are attending NATPE for the first time in 2013. When they get there, he says, they will find “a market that is doing everything it can to pay attention to customers. We invested a lot on research last year and have adapted the way we do things. Improvements include a new state-of-the-art NATPE App and a new concierge service called NATPE Navigator which will launch at NATPE Budapest [the new name for recently acquired programme market DISCOP East].”
The stats make for good reading. But why does NATPE have such an appeal? Sandwiched between MIPCOM and MIP in the sales calendar, cash-strapped companies could easily do their New Year’s business down a digital pipe instead.
“You have to start by believing in the benefits of markets, the value of face-to-face contact,” says Perth. “But from a practical point of view, a lot of stuff happens in the four months after MIPCOM. There are new shows, new ratings data and an enormous amount of development in digital content. A lot of that is coming out of the US and the rest of the world is interested.”
Perth’s upbeat assessment of NATPE is reinforced by many of this year’s attendees. Don Taffner Jr., president of DLT Entertainment, says his company has attended NATPE from the very beginning. For Taffner, who comes to this market armed with franchises like The Family, it continues to be “the only place to meet a cross section of North American buyers from local stations, networks and DVD labels in addition to Latin American buyers”. What’s changed, however, is that NATPE has been “redesigned as a cost-effective market” compared to its peak in the ‘80s “when more money was spent on hospitality than at any other US convention”.
Mayra Bracer, Latin America Television sales representative, A+E Networks, has been attending NATPE since 1995 and definitely thinks it has been re-energised by the move to Miami. “When the big US studios pulled out that made the market a tougher call for buyers. But Miami has changed that. It’s taken NATPE closer to Latin America at a time when companies from that region are much more aggressive. And European buyers are coming back because they see an opportunity to tie in an East Coast sales trip.”
Bracer, who will be headlining titles such as Miracle Rising: South Africa and The Men Who Built America, also highlights the appeal of Miami in mid-winter: “You can’t underestimate how nice it is for Europeans to do business in a place like Miami where the climate is great and your business partners are so friendly. A lot of Latin Americans are also based in Miami and know the best places to entertain.”
Raphael Correa Netto, head of international sales at Brazilian powerhouse Globo, is in town with a strong line-up of shows including telenovelas Brazil Avenue, Sparkling Girls, Gabriela, and Dinosaurs & Robots and five ‘GloboDocs’, including one about Brazilian football star Neymar. Like Bracer, he is positive about the Miami-based event: “All the markets are important,” he says, “but NATPE is a date reference for us as it is when we present the releases that will be offered throughout the year. Our main targets are Latin Americans and US Hispanics but NATPE is an opportunity to present our new catalogue to the international television market as a whole.”
Even companies with less overt Latin American connections agree that NATPE has reasserted its role in the calendar. ITV Studios’ director of international formats Mike Beale says: “For me personally, NATPE 2012 was a fact-finding mission because I was only six months into my role. But this year I’m here expecting to do business. Both myself and the senior management from our distribution arm ITV Studios Global Entertainment (Maria Kyriacou and Tobi De Graaf) will be there and we have spent more on our exhibition space and advertising. In part that’s because Latin America has become a more important market for us but it’s also because NATPE is a great opportunity to meet up with our key European buyers at the start of the year when they are looking for fresh content.”
It’s a similar message from Content Media director of European TV sales Jonathan Ford, though he admits that he did stay away the first year the market moved to Miami: “I missed the first year NATPE moved to Miami because I thought it might be less relevant for me having moved further from LA. But that was a mistake. What it gives us is access to US and Lat-Am buyers at a time of the year when they’re looking for something new. Some go to MIPTV, but quite a few don’t.”
Content’s support for the market is illustrated by the high-profile launch of Larry King Now, a talkshow that airs on Hulu in the US. “Larry will be at the market to showcase his skills by interviewing former Yahoo! boss Ross Levinsohn, CSI creator Anthony Zuiker and Heroes creator Tim Kring.”
Banijay International MD Karoline Spodsberg says “NATPE sits in a good place in the calendar. It is a good to start the New Year in an energetic atmosphere and segways nicely into MIP in April.” In addition, she says NATPE is conducive to decent conversations with partners. “There is time to talk to our Latin American and US clients in depth,” she explains. “It is also an opportunity to see and hear from format producers and be at the forefront of acquisition trends from this region.”
The pro-Miami lobby also includes BBC Worldwide Americas executive VP, sales and coproductions Matt Forde who says Vegas didn’t feel as “engaged as Miami”. Forde, who will go to Natpe armed with high-end programming including Ripper Street and Africa, says it is a sociable place where you bump into people all the time. In Vegas, you’re in and out of cabs constantly.”
It’s not just distributors who seem comfortable with a Miami-based market. John Ranelagh, head of acquisitions at Norwegian broadcaster TV2, will head to NATPE in search of formats. He says: “Miami is a marvellous place to meet for many of us at this time of year, and is a focal point for the ever-stronger Latin American and Spanish markets.”
As for the appeal of the market itself, he cites a number of factors. “First, NATPE attracts many buyers and exhibitors who do not attend MIP and MIPCOM. Second, it offers the earliest opportunity each year to be abreast of US developments and catch-up. Third, it fills a difficult gap in the cycle of TV production between the launch of new full season shows and mid-seasons. And finally, it is a great discussion resource: the interview and presentation sessions are first-rate.”
While most delegates are positive about NATPE’s timing, one issue that has caused consternation is the clash between NATPE and Realscreen in 2013 and 2014.
“It’s horrible,” admits Perth, “and after 2014 it will never happen again. But what we are doing in the meantime is creating a video hook-up so that delegates can keep up with developments at the other event.”
Although nothing has yet been confirmed, Miami looks likely to be the venue for NATPE in 2015. But interestingly, Perth won’t commit to staying in the city indefinitely “because nothing is set in stone”. Implicit in this comment is the fact that NATPE can’t really commit itself to venues unless it gets the right commercial deal for its clients.