News

Lessons of the Fall

10/24/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

Denver in late October. Who wouldn’t look forward to a business trip there from the East Coast, for a several-nights stay, just two weeks after cold and snow postponed a Colorado Rockies playoff baseball game?

That’s a cheap joke made by someone who doesn’t ski. But it does illustrate the challenge facing Cable Connection-Fall and the eight events there crammed into six days (Oct. 25-30): CTAM Summit, SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, Cable Center Hall of Fame, ACC Forum, the Walter Kaitz Foundation annual dinner, and gatherings organized by NAMIC, CableLabs and WICT.

Multichannel News will be there: we produce a daily magazine at the CTAM conference but we’d be there regardless, as these are news and networking opportunities that come along, collectively, only twice a year.

Sadly, it seems many, if not all, these events won’t be as well attended as they were last year.

No slight to Denver, a lovely place. It’s just not the cable capital anymore. So the travel and the extended stay works against the connection concept (our airfares and hotel fees are pretty cheap, though).

CableLabs is nearby; the Cable Center and Comcast Media Center are there; Positively Cable is a musical event for a good cause that’s worth flying in for. MSOs and programmers do have a presence. Starz CEO Bob Clasen, honorary chairman of the NAMIC conference, gave a great Rocky Mountain high sales pitch in these pages on Aug. 24.

Still, Cable Connection fatigue seems more pronounced this time than for the spring version, which was in Washington, D.C., anchored by the NCTA’s Cable Show.

This time, more people seem to be opting against attending because of the inability to schedule other meetings that might be an option in New York City or Philadelphia or Los Angeles (site of next April’s Cable Show and Cable Connection). David Porter, head of the Kaitz Foundation, said as much in an interview with our Tom Umstead: The Kaitz dinner benefited from being in New York.

Travel cutbacks are clearly a factor in the current economy that weren’t foreseen when the Cable Connection concept emerged in spring 2008. As CTAM CEO Char Beales said, trade-show attendance declines in the 20% range are the norm. The cable industry is more compressed now, an ever-present overhang.

But the connection concept itself — driven by top cable companies’ desire to have their executives in the office more — is disparaged by more people in my hearing this time around.

I hear more people saying: Let’s go back to the old ways, with standalone events, hopefully with continued MSO support.

Is the Connection a disaster? That’s too strong, in my opinion. But I’m with those who say go back to standalone events.

Our magazine has a stake there, too: We do events and we look for MSO participation. I’ll just observe that many of these events are growing in numbers, and anecdotally I hear part of the reason is people “miss the schmooze.” As CTAM’s Beales points out (on page 35), in this era of tweets and e-mails, “The value of face-to-face communications grows every day.”

Things change. Some events will shrink as the industry has consolidated. There used to be a thing called the Western Show that drew 20,000-plus.

I just hope the lessons of the fall (and spring) are interpreted correctly for the benefit of all.

Twice a year isn’t enough.

September