NATPE expo shows value of TV

“Digital Delivery the Buzz at NATPE”

by Robin Christian


Last winter, I attended the annual market/conference organized by the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE), which took place January 25-27, 2010, at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada. You may wonder, “Why would a filmmaker attend a conference for television executives?” For me it became very clear – we all want our movies to play on television where it will drive sales of DVD and Internet delivery. It behooves us to learn what makes a movie “TV friendly,” so that some day it may get airtime. Even with increasing on-line opportunities, television will remain a powerhouse for developing brands in the foreseeable future.

I was thoroughly impressed with the sheer variety of topics presented. NATPE featured numerous seminars on financials, choosing creative, social media, and using the Internet to drive viewers to your program. In fact, the Internet seemed to be the star and the tech-speak was at a very advanced level. Many attendees were excited to hear success stories from creators of Web series as well as power players behind the likes of FloTV, Babelgum, Twitter, and TubeFilter. More than a dozen seminars focused on promoting and broadcasting using the Internet and social media sites, attended by a slew of famous guests over the four-day event. I had to rush a few times to catch panels I really wanted to see.

One of my favorites was “Coffee with ‘House’,” sponsored by TV Guide. The program’s star, Hugh Laurie, was as funny as person as his writers make him appear on the show. Series creator David Shore and producer Katie Jacobs joined Laurie on stage, taking many questions and endearing themselves to the packed room. One question came from an actor who asked the native Englishman about his perfect American accent, to which Laurie responded that he must relentlessly examine every syllable and comma that comes out of his mouth, forcing himself to not sound forced so his voice reads as natural and “of the moment.”

Laurie further explained that he based his character on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, and that he enjoyed the recent movie starring Robert Downey, Jr., and Jude Law. The actor recalled an interesting tidbit of how Doyle studied medicine and through it met a bright, yet aloof, professor that would diagnose a patient simply by looking at him from across the room. Laurie’s imitation of a pompous, old Englishman had the audience in stitches, after which the actor admitted he had to work hard to make his HOUSE M.D. character interesting.

Shore added that, because Dr. Gregory House is in a battle of intellect versus emotion, he focuses on his protagonist and purposely writes in a way that doesn’t put House’s patients first, as might be the focus in other medical shows. Shore also claimed that Downey’s SHERLOCK HOLMES “ripped us off,” then immediately followed up that he was just kidding. Overall, these panels broke down the “anatomy” (pun intended) of the hit television shows, including prime-time, soaps, reality, and even cooking programs.

Another personal favorite of mine was a panel that included celebrity chef Curtis Stone and fitness trainer Jillian Michaels, both of THE BIGGEST LOSER and LOSING IT WITH JILLIAN, as well as Donald Trump of THE APPRENTICE. Surprisingly accessible in person, The Donald had a very funny segment where he played a one word association game with moderator Andy Cohen, a host and development executive for the Bravo television network. Trump’s answers surprised a lot of people in the audience and seemed to humanize him. Some examples were Miss California (beautiful), President Barak Obama (political), Tiger Woods (courage), Lady Gaga (talented), and Rosie O’Donnell (loser).

One panel featured ex-Walt Disney Company president Michael Eisner, touting his 100 per cent commitment to producing Web shows through his new company, Vuguru. I was impressed at how excited he and other influential experts were to embrace the Internet as an extension of television, not fear as a nemesis. It reminded me of the excitement when the Web first became a communications force in the mid-Nineties.

The NATPE expo portion featured approximately 100 booths and mini-seminars in the host resort’s convention center. Displays manned by companies large and small promoted television channels, distributors, service providers, and individual programs. Some of the seminars, such as those featuring top chefs cooking, were broadcast right from the show floor to the Internet.

NATPE will stage the next Market & Conference in Miami from January 24 to 26, 2011, the first time it has been set in Florida since 1994. (Las Vegas and New Orleans have hosted NATPE in the intervening years.) Confirmed speakers will include television personalities Regis Philbin, Mary Hart, and Michaels, as well as representatives from the networks, cable outlets, and production studios. I encourage anyone interested in filmmaking, television production, and Web content in general to attend the Miami NATPE conference, as it should be just as informative.

Even though television isn’t a priority for me since I produce movies primarily for theatrical release, I still learned a lot about what goes into successful television and what I came away with regarding the future and digital delivery was worth my time and money. Of course, traveling to Vegas has never been a problem for me in the first place…


Robin Christian is an Illinois resident who travels between his offices in Champaign, IL, and Hollywood, CA. He is an award-winning independent filmmaker and can be reached at robin [at] dreamscape [dot] bz.

Article © 2010 Robin Christian. Used with permission.

CUBlog edit © 2010 Jason Pankoke

All graphics: DuffyWilkinson Photography © 2010 NATPE

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