Byron Allen: Move NATPE To L.A. In Nov.

The Entertainment Studios chief says the trade show needs to “adapt to new realities in television programming” with a shift to TV’s production hub and a spot on the calendar where it will be more useful to the syndicated production cycle.

By John Consoli | December 6, 2021 | 5:29 a.m. ET.

Entertainment Studios owner Byron Allen says he’d like to see NATPE International move its traditional January conference in Miami to November in Los Angeles.

Allen, who owns 24 TV stations and is currently among bidders to acquire station group Tegna and its 64 stations in 51 markets, believes the NATPE show should become more of a working event where syndicated program providers can collaborate with TV stations, cable operators, streaming platforms and even advertisers.

It could function as the beginning of the programming process for the following fall season, he says, since it would be held two months into that current season, and it would give the studios an indication of how new and returning programs are performing and what changes should be looked into for the next development season.

And he says holding it in California makes sense since that’s where the money is being spent to produce the content, and it would be more convenient for the studios, along with the growing number of streaming platforms that are located there, to attend.

“Let’s make it more of a content development show,” he says, adding that if NATPE wants to continue holding its traditional January marketing show in Miami, it could do that for the many international attendees.

“Maybe they should bifurcate it,” he says.

“NATPE has done a phenomenal job over the years,” Allen says. “I learned the syndication programming business by attending those conferences and it changed my life. But it’s time to adapt to new realities in television programming.”

The idea of moving NATPE to the fall has come up several times in the past, but the event has stuck to its January time frame, no doubt in part because it includes one of the year’s most important annual programming markets for the Latin American media community and the Hollywood studios and other program providers who serve them.

The LA Screenings, which used to serve international programmers each fall, has moved to May and taken place virtually during the pandemic thanks to a partnership between NATPE and Prensario International.

While Allen believes that NATPE should involve the streaming platforms more, he says the studios should not be cutting back or abandoning producing programming for TV stations in favor of doing more streaming fare.

Some studio execs might argue that there are not enough time periods available at stations where newly developed shows could run, but Allen believes that stations would always embrace programming they could make a profit on, and says weekend syndication timeslots should also not be forgotten.

Allen was emphatic that his company, which produces more than 60 syndicated programs for TV stations, will not abandon them. And he bashed the major studios that are.

“The studios are saying to TV stations by their actions that ‘we don’t love you as much as we used to,’” Allen says. “ ‘We have a new girlfriend and she’s called streaming content.’ The major studios have broken up with the TV stations and are producing much less content for them.

“We are continuing to invest heavily to produce content for TV stations,” Allen says. “We are committed to filling the void.”

Allen says his studio is working on a couple of shows for fall 2022. Entertainment Studios announced a new Lauren Lake syndicated court show in June, which would be the company’s sixth.

Lake appeared for seven seasons on a paternity court show produced by MGM Domestic Television Distribution, but the syndicator canceled all of its court shows after 2019. Her new offering, from Allen’s Entertainment Studios, is We the People with Judge Lauren Lake.

Allen calls his six court shows “an all-star team” that he plans on keeping on “for decades to come.”

Allen says court shows were a space for him to zig as the rest of the industry zagged in the wake of Oprah Winfrey’s retirement from syndication.

“Back when Oprah stepped down, a lot of studios tried to find the next Oprah,” he says. “They didn’t succeed. She was one of a kind. But we decided to invest in the court show business instead. When the others decided to be in the ‘how to we replace Oprah in the talk show business,’ we decided we would dominate the court show space.”

While Allen believes there is only one Judge Judy, which is still doing well in repeats now that Judy Sheindlen has left the show, he says stations around the country always find space for court shows.

His current five court shows are airing in 90% of U.S. markets.

While Allen would not comment on the negotiations regarding the Tegna acquisition, he believes as his company stands right now, the future of local stations is “extremely important,” adding, “we have a vested interest that broadcast syndication stays extremely healthy.”

Regarding his station group, Allen says right now it is “the largest, non-publicly traded, non-multigenerational-owned TV station group in the country,” owning just under 5% of total local TV stations.

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