In his 1992 single “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On),” Bruce Springsteen lamented the sorry state of that era’s TV landscape.
Today, though, Springsteen would be singing about having too many shows he wants to watch and not enough screens — or time — to consume them all.
“It’s an amazing time to be working in television,” says JP Bommel, COO and managing director of NATPE, the National Association of Television Program Executives group, which will hold its annual convention in Miami Beach Jan. 17-19 . This is the sixth year in a row that NATPE has taken place in South Florida, following stints in New Orleans and Las Vegas in the 1990s and 2000s.
Miami’s growing renown as a cultural hotspot has helped to raise NATPE’s global profile — 72 countries are attending this year — and Bommel says the city’s reputation as an arts destination is a perfect backdrop for the conference’s mix of business and glamour.
But although a lot of schmoozing goes down at NATPE, the main objective is business — the sales and negotiations that determine what people around the world will be watching on their TV screens over the next year.
“Two years ago, there were about 210 scripted TV series in the U.S. Now we’re up to 455,” Bommel says. “That growth is due to the new shift of over-the-top services [e.g. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon] coming on the scene and creating their own original content in addition to traditional network and cable outlets.”
According to Nielsen Media, all of the 10 highest-rated prime-time TV shows (not counting football) among adults 18-49 in 2016 were scripted programs. Revivals of once-popular series that have gained a new generation of viewers via streaming, such as “Twin Peaks” and “The X-Files,” are also becoming popular. To reflect that industry trend, NATPE is adding a new track of panel discussions and master classes to this year’s convention focusing on creating scripted drama and comedy shows.
Also launching at this year’s convention is a track of conferences on seminars exploring the symbiotic relation of TV and music, from reality shows such as “The Voice” and “America’s Got Talent” to fictional series such as “House of Cards” and “Game of Thrones,” both of which have spawned national tours of live immersive performances of the shows’ memorable scores.
“There’s an entire industry built around getting your music into a TV show,” Bommel says. “You put a song on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and it becomes a hit. Fifty percent of all viewing on YouTube is music-driven. We’re going to explain to the audience in Miami how you get your music into a TV series — how to pitch and what the trends are.”
An economic boon
More than 5,000 TV industry executives are expected to attend this year’s NATPE Miami conference at the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc hotels (another, smaller NATPE gathering is held in Budapest during the summer that focuses on Eastern Europe). According to Rolando Aedo, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, this year’s convention will bring a $5.2 million economic boon to the city’s hospitality and entertainment businesses, up from last year’s $4.7 million.
Economic boon the 2017 NATPE convention will bring to Miami
“NATPE is a closed event geared towards the industry, whereas something like Art Basel is a public event,” Aedo says. “But even something like the Winter Music Conference, which happens in March and is best-known for the big concerts in downtown Miami, also draws a lot of music industry people who come to talk about the business and cut deals. Miami Swim Week brings in people who are buying and selling swimwear around the world. These types of events — art, film, music, design, fashion — are Miami’s key branding pillars, and having an industry component to them is critical.”
Honorees at this year’s convention include actress/director Eva Longoria, Univision Communications president and CEO Randy Falco and YouTube head of original programming Susanne Daniels, who are among the recipients of the 2017 Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award, which recognize TV creatives. A free app for cell phones and tablets, myNATPE, allows attendees to livestream panel discussions and organize their schedules. The NATPE Reality Breakthrough Award will honor the reality-TV show that garnered the most attention from the public and the media in 2016 (finalists include “Chopped,” “Intervention” and “60 Days In.”)
Started in 1964 as a way for independent TV station owners in the U.S. to buy syndicated programming, NATPE has become a required stop for programmers, producers, content creators and production companies from around the world to sell and exhibit content that’s either ready to air or in the planning stages.
“20 or 30 years ago, I spent a lot of my meetings saying ‘Please,’” says Ira Bernstein, co-president of Debmar-Mercury, a media company that distributes programs such as “The Wendy Williams Show” and “Celebrity Name Game.” “Now I spent most of my meetings saying ‘thank you.’ Before, NATPE was really a selling convention where you tried to get TV stations in the U.S. to buy your shows. Now, for me, it’s more about meeting with all your major clients, thanking them for their business and showing them what we’re doing next. We’re not asking them to put our show on in September. We’re telling them what we’re planning for 2018.”
Lionsgate Television Group chairman Kevin Beggs came to NATPE in 2015 to sell international broadcast rights to a TV remake of “Dirty Dancing” that hadn’t yet been shot. This year, he’s returning to NATPE with the finished product in the can. The movie, starring Abigail Breslin, Debra Messing and Colt Prattes, is set to premiere on ABC on May 24.
“Last year we were gearing up for production, but now we have an air date and we can actually show parts of it and give people a good sense of the movie,” Beggs says. “Several international buyers have been tracking it, but they all want to know when it’s going to air first.”
Other programs Beggs is bringing to NATPE include the FOX reality series “Kicking and Screaming,” which pairs a survival expert with a diva and send them out on a jungle competition in Fiji; “White Famous,” a half-hour comedy series produced by Jamie Foxx loosely based on his personal experiences, starring “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Jay Pharoah; and “Dear White People,” a spin-off of the 2014 comedy about four black students attending an Ivy League college, set to air later this year on Netflix.
NATPE attendees will continue to experiment with incorporating technologies such as second-screen tablet viewing and virtual reality into traditional programs. Rob Lee, president of non-scripted programming for Keshet International, will be hawking a U.S. version of “Touch,” the hit Israeli game show in which viewers play along in real time with a “What’s wrong with this picture?” premise by using the touch screens on their mobile devices. Another program, “The Feed,” will follow people as they rely on Instagram and social media to find out what the most popular dish or desserts are in whatever city they are visiting — then finding out if the hype is real.
“Increasingly, you need to incorporate second-screen or multiplatform capabilities into your television programming,” Lee says. “As technology evolves, the definition of what a successful TV show is will also continue to evolve.”