News

That CableLabs Conference Really Rocked

8/26/2005 8:00 PM Eastern

Contributors: Leslie Ellis, Steve Donohue, Linda Haugsted.

That CableLabs Conference Really Rocked

Rocky Mountains, indeed. Nothing like getting on the highway for what’s usually a two-hour drive — only to find yourself at your destination eight hours later! That’s what vexed vendor and MSO attendees of the recent CableLabs Summer Conference, held annually in Keystone, Colo.

Three big rockslides on the early morning of Sunday, Aug. 14, dropped 1,500 tons of rocks onto I-70, the main artery through Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The pile included a 200-ton boulder, about 30 feet long, and another one the size of an SUV.

Traffic was diverted to a single-lane frontage road, with predictable results: The backup had stretched to about 15 miles by that Sunday afternoon, a huge mess for those who came in ahead of an early Monday start at the conference.

Cox’s John Hildebrand, VP of multimedia technology, said someone in the group of Cox and Scientific-Atlanta folks he flew in with Sunday happened to call a co-worker who was already stuck in the backup, “so most of the cable types on our flight found out about the problem before we got to it.”

“Thanks to Microsoft Streets and Trips on my laptop, we were able to find the best alternate route,” he continued in an e-mail. “All in all … our trip from the Denver airport took 3 hours 15 minutes … about an hour longer than usual.”

Denverite Marwan Fawaz, chief technical officer of Adelphia, had a similar idea, but his car’s navigation system took the call for alternative routing a little too seriously: It proposed sending him onto a dirt road labeled “Virgin Canyon-Oh My God,” with “at your own risk” underneath, in smaller type. That was a road best not taken.

At the conference the next day, Comcast Corp.’s John Treece, senior director of video and media engineering, had a wry comment on the revolting traffic situation. It was a visual joke, plugged into a couple of PowerPoint slides.

“With close to 900 folks from the cable industry converging on this very important conference in Keystone, the authorities thought it a bit suspicious that not one, but three rockslides occurred in one day, effectively cutting off all major lanes into Keystone,” Treece began.

The accompanying slide showed a photo of a rock-slid road and a person standing with a hardhat.

“After further investigation,” Treece said, or words like it, “it appears they have found their first clue.”

The slide showed a yellow hardhat with a Verizon logo on top of a rock heap.

We’re not sure if we should call Columbo, Monk or Fred Punstone!

Free Dish Offer Catches Ear, Oh, but There’s That Catch

After announcing early last week it would offer 10 free years of Dish Network service to every local citizen if a town agreed to change its name to Dish, EchoStar had received a couple of inquires from interested parties, company spokesman Mark Cicero said last Thursday.

Cicero said a man who owns the land that encompasses Brookvale, Colo., about 25 miles west of Denver, inquired about taking EchoStar up on its offer, which would allow Brookvale’s 250 residents to get the service for free.

And a citizen of Virgil, N.Y., also called the company, saying he would make a proposal to change the town name to Dish at an upcoming council meeting. Virgil has about 2,300 residents.

It’s still not clear if EchoStar’s marketing stunt will ever result in a town changing its name to Dish. As with all Dish (and cable) promotions, the fine print must be read. In order for towns to qualify for the offer of 10 free years of Dish Network service, they must agree to permanently rename their town Dish, along with local hospitals, schools and government buildings.

Why stop there? Dish Dump has a nice ring, doesn’t it?

Craig Moffett and Amelia Wong of Sanford Bernstein Research, filling in for the retired Tom Wolzien on the firm’s Weekend Media Blast, did a little research into likely candidates to be renamed and, being analysts, ran potential costs at EchoStar’s estimated $4,000 per household.

Boring, Md., for example, would cost Charlie Ergen’s company about $3.6 million, while larger Boring, Ore., would set it back a heftier $21.6 million. Bargain possibilities: Crapo, Md., ($270,270); Hell, Mich., ($386,100); and Dead Horse, Ark. ($77,220).

The Bernstein wags also noted EchoStar’s holding a contest to let some lucky person name the next Dish satellite, attend a rocket signing ceremony and more. “We can’t wait to read in next year’s DISH 10K: 'Helen McGillicuddy lost one of her orbital thrusters in May, and one of her solar array strings failed to open…’ ”

“For those clients who are looking to make their mark,” they added, “we should point out that instead of entering EchoStar’s sweepstakes, for only $54, the International Star Registry will let you name your own star.”

Sandi Padnos Is Teaching Old PR Hands New Tricks

A cable public-relations veteran is rolling out a series of seminars designed to update the skills of publicity professionals within and outside of the industry.

Sandi Padnos, who’s gotten out the word for companies including The Disney Channel, Fine Living and Marvel Entertainment Group, said Discovery Networks is her first cable client to take advantage of Scoop: Seminars for the Savvy Publicist.

“When I started in the 1980s, the biggest budgets were for messenger services and postage. Now, it’s for Internet monitoring services” that track stories about one’s company, she said.

Padnos has kept up with the trends in publicity and marketing as an educator teaching classes at UCLA in addition to running her own PR company. The sessions will include modules on how publicists can quantify the success of a campaign to the marketing executives who actually pay for that campaign, to how to use new media streams such as podcasts.

The Entertainment Publicists Professional Society has endorsed the seminars. And, in keeping with her philosophy that all good campaigns have a community or public-service element, Padnos notes that 5% of revenue from the seminars will be donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, supporting research on Parkinson’s Disease.