Forget all that talk about the ongoing golden age of television. That was yesterday.
“We’re living through a platinum age now,” said Kevin Beggs, chairman of the Lionsgate Television Group, creator of shows such as Nashville, Orange is the New Black, Mad Men and Nurse Jackie.
“Cable TV networks started to jump into original programming in the late 1990s. That was followed by the Netflix revolution. They weren’t limited by scheduling or advertising. Today, you can watch TV anywhere, anytime. You have the ability to binge-watch an entire season in one weekend. And shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad have drawn in people who might not have previously paid attention to television. The bar has been raised for everyone working in the medium.”
Beggs is one of the nearly 5,000 industry executives expected to attend the 2016 National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) convention at the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc resorts on Miami Beach Jan. 19-21.
Launched in 1964, the convention originally was designed as a venue for TV channel owners from around the U.S. to buy and sell game shows, syndicated classic series and old movies to shore up their daily on-air schedules.
Today, NATPE has become one of the largest international markets in the world, attracting everyone from acquisition executives looking to buy or invest in new programs to production companies and distributors hawking new or in-development content. This year, the market floor – the place where more than 1,000 acquisition executives, content buyers and media executives will sell and trade programs – has nearly tripled in size from the 2015 edition, which is why the event is expanding to the Eden Roc for the first time.
In addition to the Miami edition, a NATPE Europe convention is held in the summer, focusing on the growing Central and Eastern European markets. But the Miami gathering remains NATPE’s main event. The growth of over-the-top (OTT) content – original programming delivered a la carte via Netflix, Hulu, Crackle, Roku, AppleTV and other digital video-on-demand services – has further raised the conference’s international profile.
“As the world of content changes and evolves, NATPE takes on an added importance,” said Andy Kaplan, president of worldwide networks for Sony Pictures Television. “It has become a little bit of a center of the world for everything that is happening within the industry – a global marketplace where people come to talk about content.
“We’re in an era like we’ve never seen before. This is the most exciting time in the history of TV production. The evolution of technology and the appetite for content has created an explosion of opportunities for creators.”
Befitting the boom in delivery systems and the radical changes that have resulted in TV viewing habits, the theme of this year’s conference is “Be Creative. Be Fearless. Be Ready.”
“That theme is a metaphor for how our business has to respond to the shift to viewers now being in control of their content,” said Rod Perth, the president and CEO of NATPE, who will be stepping down from the post after a four-year run after the 2016 conference. “It’s a rallying cry for what we believe the industry needs to embrace.
“We always have to be creative, because ultimately what we do is about storytelling and entertainment. But we also have to be fearless in recognizing we’re living in time of incredible change. We have to be ready for that.”
Miami as a gateway city
The NATPE convention relocated from Las Vegas to Miami in 2011 to take advantage of the city’s proximity to Latin America and the large number of Spanish-language outlets that are headquartered or maintain full-time offices here. Rolando Aedo, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, said this year’s NATPE convention will generate a $4.7 million economic boon for the city – the Fontainebleau alone has over 5,000 room-nights booked during the event – and other, long-term benefits that are harder to measure.
“We recognize the importance of NATPE as a meeting ground for high-level industry executives,” Aedo said. “But this is a special show because of its subject matter. Miami has long benefited from being represented on film and television, so it’s extra special for us to be bringing together folks from a powerful industry who are able to promote us through images.”
But although hosting NATPE is a feather in the Florida film and television industry’s cap, the event’s main mission is one of commerce.
Lionsgate, for example, will be looking for foreign buyers for its musical adaptation of the 1987 hit Dirty Dancing, which begins shooting in April for ABC and has cast Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) and Debra Messing (Will & Grace) in lead roles (no word yet on who will be stepping in for Patrick Swayze) and the hour-long dramatic series Feed the Beast, which begins filming in February and will air on AMC in May, about two best friends – one a chef, the other a high-end sommelier – trying to open a four-star restaurant in the Bronx. Also on its docket: a biopic on the life of President Andrew Jackson, to be played by Sean Penn, for HBO.
Craig Cegielski is the co-CEO of FremantleMedia North America, the U.S. arm of the media giant that operates in 28 countries and distributes shows such as Family Feud outside the U.S. and Got Talent around the world. He is coming to NATPE looking for international buyers for its adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed fantasy novel American Gods, which is scheduled to air on STARZ in 2017. The company also is looking to expand the reach of its TV network Buzzr, which airs 50 years’ of iconic TV game shows and currently reaches 36 markets in the U.S.
“NATPE has evolved from a U.S. distribution marketplace to a global sales market,” said Cegielski, “We connect our content to outlets – be it broadcast, cable or digital platforms. We operate in both scripted and non-scripted content worldwide. The people we connect with at NATPE are the end users who will distribute.”
As usual, this year’s NATPE convention will feature many opportunities for stargazing and seminars with industry pros. Steve Harvey, Norman Lear and Quincy Jones are among the recipients of this year’s Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards. Comedian Howie Mandel will host the event’s second award ceremony recognizing standout reality TV shows. Showrunners Ilene Chaiken (Empire), Kris Jenner (Keeping Up with the Kardashians), Graham Yost (The Americans), Howard Gordon (Homeland), John Eisendrath (The Blacklist) and Michelle Ashford (Masters of Sex) will participate in panel discussions about the way TV shows shape pop culture.
But the emphasis, as always, will be on business and industry trends, including several discussions on the growing Hispanic TV audience and how to best serve them in both English and Spanish.
Chris Philip, head of production and distribution for Televisa USA, the English-language unit of the Mexican media giant, is attending NATPE with several shows in tow, including The Luck of Huemac, a drama about a family of Aztecs near the end of their civilization; Maleficio, a U.S.-remake of the 1980s telenovela about a man who makes a deal with the devil; and Gran Hotel, which Philip describes as “Downtown Abbey with a murder mystery” set in pre-Castro Havana.
“When you have a single-lane highway, you’re going to get traffic jams and slow-downs,” Philip said. “On a five lane highway, you have more room for a lot more cars.
“That’s what’s happening with the industry now. There’s more room for content. If someone binges an entire series on one weekend, they should be able to have another one ready to go. It’s a beautiful time to be a producer who can supply networks with programming.”