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NATPE Faces Obstacles

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NATPE president and CEO Rick Feldman on Tuesday admitted that the recession is going to have an impact on the organization's upcoming conference but said organizers have been working to ensure that attendees get their money's worth.

"There is no other market where the broadcast world and the cable world and the advertising world and the agent world and the TV station world all get together to try to have intelligent conversation about what is happening in the world of television," he said.

To that end, the schedule, which can be found at NATPE.org, will be "covering the whole gamut of what everybody does" related to producing, monetizing and making decisions about content, Feldman said.

Feldman expects attendance to be down for the 2009 event, set for Jan. 26-29 at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, but declined to get specific, saying that 50 percent of attendees typically register in January.

"We always tend to break late, but this year we're breaking later," he said. "Attendance, sponsors -- everything is a little late."

Feldman did say he expects more than 300 exhibitors and more than 400 buyers from 50 countries, but added that the major distributors appear to be bringing fewer people than in previous years. All of the majors, with the exception of Sony, will attending. CBS' domestic unit will be back on the exhibit floor alongside its international counterpart after sitting last year out; NBC Universal also is returning to the floor. Warner Bros.' domestic division is returning to the suites after spending last year on the floor; Disney and Twentieth also will be back in the suites. As for the station groups, more than half of the group heads are committed to attending.

NATPE hasn't lowered exhibitor fees -- though Feldman said NATPE has agreed to "lessen space" for the majors -- but it has extended the deadline for early, lower registration fees for attendees. The group also has been working with the hotel to lower rates for participants.

Meanwhile, plans are still being worked out for the first day of the confab, originally intended to feature executive management sessions that were cut over concerns about charging attendees extra fees in a troubled economy. Feldman said the schedule may include a session being planned in conjunction with the international TV academy or a special screening of a yet-to-premiere midseason series (NATPE is talking to studios about the latter).

As for the future of NATPE, which is locked in to the Mandalay Bay through 2010 and will "probably" stay in Vegas beyond that, Feldman sees it eventually going in a more digital direction.

"I think we're going to have structural changes where, in the near term, we're going to have no growth from the traditional legacy businesses and growth from the online and mobile businesses," he said.