NATPE Files For Bankruptcy, Citing Covid Impact And Vowing To Host 2023 Events

NATPE, which has convened annual gatherings of producers, syndicators, station owners and other TV stakeholders for decades, has decided to file for bankruptcy.

The organization cited the impact of Covid and said it planned to continue holding events, including its annual January conference, which is shifting to the Bahamas from its longtime Miami base. The official Chapter 11 filing is expected to happen Tuesday, but today’s announcement is intended to give the industry and attendees advance warning. Seeking a formal remedy through the legal system is seen as the best way the organization can reorganize its operations.

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The pandemic “prevented NATPE from holding events, which typically generate significant revenue,” a press release said. “These cancellations forced NATPE to operate on its financial reserves, which now require it to reorganize the NATPE business structure.”

In June, NATPE held its first in-person marketplace in two years at the Intercontinental Hotel in Budapest, Hungary. Due to the Omicron wave last winter, the group had to cancel its 2022 conference in Miami at the 11th hour, following the more predictable decision to go dark in 2021 at a time when most large-scale events (though, notably, not in the state of Florida) were still in limbo. Earlier this year, NATPE announced that its main event for Stateside attendees would be moving to the Baha Mar Resort in Nassau, Bahamas, in January 2023, and a return to Budapest is slated for June 2023. Both events next year are due to remain on the books during the bankruptcy process.

As to the nature of restructuring, NATPE said it is “looking at all possible options.” Possibilities could include raising funds through strategic alliances as well as continuing to operate NATPE as a more streamlined and reorganized operation. While no executives were quoted in the press release, it said NATPE was “optimistic” about its prospects of emerging from bankruptcy in a more fortified position in the industry.

NATPE, short for the National Association of Television Program Executives, traces its roots almost to the advent of the medium. In the three-network era, the group gained prominence by creating common ground for various constituents to conduct business and exhibit their wares. In the 1980s and ’90s, as the syndication business reached its peak, NATPE came to symbolize the excesses of the era, as suddenly ascendant producers like King World found a setting where they could spend some of their windfalls. The company, which syndicated ratings powerhouses like The Oprah Winfrey Show and Wheel of Fortune before an eventual sale to CBS, rented out the Louisiana Superdome one year when NATPE was taking place in New Orleans, hosting a party for thousands.

In more recent years, NATPE became a more scaled-down and diversified affair, but its main U.S. event in Miami defied expectations that it might follow the downward trajectory of the syndication and local TV sectors toward obsolescence. The streaming boom instead offered a new piece of entertainment real estate to explore, and a satellite event focused on streaming that launched in LA several years ago has expanded the footprint. By putting down roots in Miami more than a decade ago, NATPE settled into a more coherent pattern and used that location to expand the role of international buyers and sellers, especially Latin American companies. While the go-go days of NATPE’s past have stayed in the past, the event found a degree of stability until the Covid curtain fell in early 2020.

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