Streaming Media in the Big Easy

NEW ORLEANS (01/28/2000) - Elaborate booths have always been a part of the annual conference for the National Association of Television Programming Executives. This year was no different, featuring a virtual indoor compound from Buena Vista Television, and several on-site executive suites from other programming companies, all profering lavish spreads of delectables and nightly three-martini cocktail parties. Each unit was decked out with the company's logo, plush carpet, mood lighting and music. All in the hopes of enticing syndicators to pick up shows like The Lost World, The Invisible Man and Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.

As the booths have become more ornate, though, the number of attendees has fallen. Five years ago the conference drew 30,000 people, but the 17,520 who showed up this year actually marked an increase of 80 people over last year's total. As the TV industry consolidates, the number of potential buyers for each show continues to shrink. So it's not surprising that NATPE is emphasizing its new clientele: the new-media industry. The industry group has even chosen a new subtitle, one more inclusive of this potentially lucrative category: The Alliance of Media Content Professionals.

The conference floor was indeed telling. Some of the major programming companies' camps were at times quite empty. But attendees swarmed around the booths of DigitalConvergence.com - a startup from NetTalkLive host Jovan Philyaw - and Microcast, a streaming media company that launched at NATPE with $25 million in funding and a team of experienced marketing and media executives. The new-media pavilion squeezed in the balance of the 150 dot-coms that hadn't chosen to locate themselves on the main floor.

"It's a huge component," said NATPE President and CEO Bruce Johansen. "There's a lot here to explore ... Many want to come back."

The dot-com crowd was on hand to acquire content and close strategic deals, like the one that e-Poll sealed to help Columbia TriStar conduct market research. Technology companies like Microcast, set-top box ReplayTV and streaming technology developer Intervu hoped to convince traditional TV execs of the viability of their new products as bridges to interactive TV.

"This is the first year more deals are getting done," said Gerry Philpott, e-Poll CEO and head of NATPE New Media.

But the biggest buzz term at the event - which ends today - was "streaming media," because it marries television and the Internet in a way that preserves TV's bread-and-butter content and advertising. NinaSteiner, NATPE's head of new-media sales, says that's one reason Microcast chose to set up shop next door to Paramount's massive base.

Meanwhile, in the new-media pavilion, TV hopefuls were pitching ideas for interactive TV shows in an enclosed Microsoft unit. Judges from talent agencies, TV networks and Microsoft rated the 60-second pitches they heard, choosing one winner for each of the conference's first three days. On Wednesday, the winner of the iPitch contest, as it was called, also won NATPE's own Pitch Me contest, which focused on creating a simple TV show, one with no interactive elements. The winners are put in touch with production executives for development deals.

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