CBS Decides Not To Roll Dice With NATPE In Vegas

There goes the neighborhood: CBS Television Distribution, the dominant player in the syndication business, has decided not to attend the annual NATPE syndication conference this year in Las Vegas.

In recent years a number of major studios have downgraded their presence at the event, electing to avoid expensive convention floor positions for less costly, more intimate suites at the Las Vegas hotels.

But with CBS this will be a shutout of sorts: no floor, no suites, no CBS executives anywhere at the event -- except for its international TV sales group.

What does it say about CBS, a company that on any given week offers up eight or nine of the top-10 -rated syndicated shows (including the likes of "Wheel of Fortune," "Oprah Winfrey" and "Dr. Phil") and probably controls 35% of all national syndication ad revenue?



Probably what people have been saying for a long time, that it can do business without NATPE, especially as syndication continues as a slow growth business at best. It's a business where, increasingly, the strong get stronger not from expanding the market, but from taking share away from competitors.

The immediate reason: CBS did so much business last year with renewal of its shows. This year it recently cleared lots of stations for a new show, a Dr. Phil spin-off, "The Doctors." The result is that there's nothing for CBS to do at this NATPE. 

The long-term consequence: CBS - and other syndicators -- don't necessary need NATPE to do business, which has actually been the case for the better part of the decade and a half.

Over the last several years NATPE has understood this, and has taken great pains to shift seminars and other efforts away from its original core interest to broader media topics -- digital, content, mobile, advertising and research.

But the problem is, NATPE still looks to big television distribution divisions to carry a lot of its freight -- all with the hope of getting those small, emerging new-media companies as replacements.

The bottom line is, syndication hasn't grown as fast in relation to other TV media, or newer digital TV platforms. Talk to advertisers and they tell you syndication is still valuable. But you don't need to be there every step of the way.

CBS Television Distribution, and other syndicators, are looking for ways to cool their heels.

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