The world is beating a path back to NATPE after the annual TV programming conference spent the better part of the last decade fighting for its survival. When NATPE’s 2012 Market & Conference unfolds January 23-25 in Miami Beach at the Fontainebleau Resort, it will feature in excess of 600 buyers, more than 200 exhibiting companies and some 5,500 attendees, NATPE president and CEO Rick Feldman estimated during a conference call with reporters this morning. That’s significantly greater interest than there was for the confab as recently as five years ago, Feldman stressed. “It’s not going to look like it did 15 years ago,” he was quick to add. “But relative to the market as it is today, we’ll be featuring the best contingent of domestic broadcasters that we’ve had in a very long time. From every single perspective — distributors, total attendees, buyers and advertisers — we’re either slightly to really nicely ahead of where we were. And a lot of the companies participating this time are new ones. If you look at the list, so many of them didn’t exist five years ago.” Also flocking back to NATPE after lackluster participation in recent years are the bigger agencies like UTA, CAA, WME and ICM, Feldman noted.

Speakers and participants scheduled for the 2012 conference include Starz president and CEO Chris Albrecht; Lionsgate TV president Kevin Beggs; Magical Elves principals Jane Lipsitz and Dan Cutforth; FreemantleMedia North America CEO and American Idol executive producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz; NBC Broadcasting chairman Ted Harbert; Viacom Entertainment Group president Doug Herzog; Turner Broadcasting System chairman and CEO Phil Kent (the conference’s keynote speaker); Nickelodeon president Cyma Zarghami; and Mad Men creator/showrunner Matthew Weiner. Frot-Coutaz and Weiner are among four recipients of the Ninth Annual Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award, the others being Colombian producer Fernando Gaitan and Fox president of station ops Dennis Swanson. Feldman admitted this morning that he’s a little surprised that the economic tumult that’s rocked Europe hasn’t yet impacted NATPE. “We’re all walking around in a little bubble,” he said. “All of those problems haven’t really hit us. There just seems to be an insatiable appetite right now for original content.” Feldman noted that the problems at NATPE over the past several years have stemmed from consolidation in the content world while digital was still ramping up. “We’re simply reflecting the business as it is,” he believes. ”We see a lot of people gone, but a lot of new ones have taken their place. Certainly, the online business has now reached a certain maturity level.”