A NATPE 2013 Recap - Inside and Ringside, #NATPE2013

In the world of conference attendance, NATPE was not my first rodeo but it was my first time with this group and it proved to be a memorable experience.

NATPE – the National Association of Television Program Executives was energetic and engaging.  As is the case with many conferences these days the content of the keynotes and sessions are important but the engagement with fellow attendees and vendors is most rewarding outside of the confines of a ballroom.  The added kicker to NATPE is you sometimes realize that the person you are speaking to is famous, infamous or just so well connected that it makes your jaw drop!

For a full recap I will split the conversation between what happened “inside the ropes” (sessions) and what happened “ringside” (networking, parties, milling around).

As with any conference I try to attend the highlight Keynote and then the sessions that most apply to me, my team and our clients.  NATPE began with a heavyweight – Mark Cuban in conversation with Poppy Harlow.  Not your traditional Keynote, but it certainly was engaging.  I enjoyed listening to Mr. Cuban because he plays in the space and has a good track record.  He was quite bullish on cable TV and TV in general.  I was surprised to hear his thoughts on “following the youth trend”.  He insinuated that young people only use tools like YouTube and Facebook because they have “the time to waste” as opposed to adults and as they move into adulthood they realize that.  While the premise is okay, I do not completely agree.  While Facebook is the “ultimate time killer” it is the gateway into social for so many adults and it is where conversation happens.  Mr. Cuban also has concerns around second screen experiences, and here I agree.  In fact, most of the sessions I attended revolved around second screen and or social experiences around TV.  Under full disclosure I also sat on one of these panels highlighting Definition 6's work with both PBS/Masterpiece Theater for our work with Downton Abbey and HBO and the work we collaborated on for True Blood.

Being associated with the industry through a digital marketing agency, it is through a very unique lens that I got to watch the debate about TV and social interaction.  What stuck out most to me was the limited number of folks en masse that are using second screen experiences and the sheer number of entities trying to “figure it out”.  My mind blurred at one screen shot that showed FIVE different “bubbles” with at least EIGHT different “tools” in each and I wondered who could manage all that information and still just watch a show?  While the sizes of our TVs have gotten larger it also seems that the actual footprint of a show on the screen is shrinking as “scrolls”, sidebars and new content vie for space. I don’t think the general public is ready for that. yet, I think there is room for the idea.  With the proliferation of mobile, tablet and wifi I wonder why I can’t just have that experience, if I want it, on the screen of my choice.  Imagine an avid American Idol fan versus the passive one who just tunes in.  The avid fan will always want and crave more while the passive one may get turned off by “too much” on screen content.  It seems to me the balance comes in “syncing” real time TV watching with your personal handheld in your home.  Grab what you want, when you want it while not interrupting the experience for the masses.  Publicize what’s out there, measure the feedback and maybe convert the passive over in due time.

Outside the lecture halls there was tremendous networking time.  Unlike many conferences, plenty of people attend to just be around to pitch shows and products in an informal setting.  From the marketplace to the parties out by the pool there were ample opportunities to learn about new shows, technologies and the way the industry is looking to further their relationships with both the end user and the sponsors that are key to being able to make quality content.

For me, the highlight was dinner with Jamie Widdoes who not only is instrumental in two huge sitcoms (Growing Pains and Two and a Half Men) but also played Robert Hoover in Animal House.  Getting to hear his perspective of over 30+ years in the industry was like a live reading of a Wikipedia page.

Overall my experience at NATPE 2013 was better than I could have hoped for and I look forward to continuing the dialogue with the people and brands we met with.