Cable 'Disconnection’

1/18/2010 2:00 AM Eastern

The grand experiment to consolidate the cable industry’s major events into a compressed two-week period — dubbed Cable Connection — hasn’t quite worked out as planned.

Last week, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, bowing in part to mounting pressure from two organizations, allowed the groups to split their main fundraising events from the Cable Connection conference.

Walter Kaitz Foundation executive David PorterThe National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications and the Walter Kaitz Foundation — which raise a large part of their annual budgets through a conference and dinners in New York — had complained that last year’s Fall Connections conference in Denver had decimated their fund-raising efforts.

NAMIC, for example, had estimated that attendance at its Denver conference in October was off by about 50%, mainly because the executives that normally attend the event are centered around the New York area and the East Coast.

According to Kaitz executive director David Porter, that “experiment” didn’t quite have the intended effect and last week the NCTA returned the events to their original time and location: September in New York.

“I think the industry attempted the [Cable Connection–Fall] experiment with the understanding that we could consolidate all of the meetings and that it wouldn’t affect the diversity organizations, but found that in reality it did affect them,” Porter said.

“The board quickly turned around and said that we wanted to maintain these organizations, events and activities, and if it needs to be in New York, then it’ll happen in New York,” he added.

“The reality is that you combined two meetings and a dinner whose historical attendance has been mostly New York- and East Coast-based,” Porter continued. “All of a sudden people who were used to just hopping on the train to go to the events now have to fly across the country at a time when travel budgets were getting cut because of the struggling economy.”

Both Porter and NAMIC president Kathy Johnson hoped that the switch would return their respective events to their former glory.

NAMIC topper Kathy JohnsonIn 2008, the NAMIC event had a record 850 attendees. That same year Kaitz had about 1,300 people at its dinner, nearly twice the 700 that showed up in Denver in 2009.

“We know the economy had some impact, so I’m not sure that we’ll immediately get back to our 2008 levels, but we hope to definitely see an increase in our numbers being back on the East Coast,” Johnson said.

Porter added that he did not expect an immediate return to past levels — the Kaitz dinner grossed $1.7 million in 2008, compared to $1 million in 2009 — but he remained optimistic.

“I don’t know if we will immediately make it back to 2008 levels, but rather work up to it,” Porter said.

“One of the things about any type of fundraising event is that once you get out of people’s budgets for a year then you have to work your way back in. But our numbers will certainly be up from last year’s numbers,” Porter added.

Diversity Week will run Sept. 13 to 16 and will include the Kaitz dinner (Sept. 15); the WICT Leadership Conference (Sept. 13-14); the NAMIC Conference (Sept. 14-15); and the Association of Cable Communicators Forum (Sept.15-16).

In addition, the NCTA has slightly shuffled the Spring and Fall conference schedule as follows:

  • The Cable Hall of Fame Celebration, held during Cable Connection–Fall last year, will move to the Spring

  • WICT, which is moving its leadership conference to Diversity Week, will hold a Gala Lunch at the Spring session on May 11.

NCTA senior vice president of industry affairs Barbara York declined comment on the changes, adding through a spokesperson that the organization is “a facilitator” for the conference for the industry.

Whether more changes are in store also is unclear. It is well known that a special NCTA committee of about 10 to 15 members has been reviewing the financial wherewithal of several cable-related organizations. That review, which could decide the fate of smaller associations, is ongoing.

NAMICThe NCTA’s decision to consolidate events back in 2008 has been a somewhat controversial topic. Spurred by industry executives who were becoming increasingly concerned by the time and money consumed by an ever-growing number of events, it flustered smaller organizations that worried consolidation would have a negative impact on finances. NCTA had pledged to make up any shortfalls.

At least one organization met its demise as a result of the shift. Cable Positive agreed in August 2008 to give up its annual fundraising dinner. Then, in September 2009, the organization said said it would shut its doors by the end of the year, unable to withstand the financial strain.

Johnson said last week that NAMIC was able to sustain any losses from 2009 by reducing expenses.

He added that now that the conference has returned to the East Coast, there is little talk of reimbursement.

“That’s something that hasn’t been part of the conversation, but we don’t anticipate that being necessary,” Johnson said.