Backers: Western's Smaller, 'Upbeat'

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To no one's surprise, this year's Western Show is shaping up to be a comparatively scaled-down affair — a reflection of the cable industry's shifting dynamics.

Officials with the California Cable Television Association, which sponsors the Dec. 3 to Dec. 6 convention in Anaheim, declined to discuss attendance figures. But industry sources predict attendance could range from as low as 4,000 participants to as high as 10,000. Any figure in that ballpark would be a large drop from last year's announced attendance of 17,000 — and an even greater falloff from 2000's figure of 33,000.

CCTA vice president Jerry Yanowitz acknowledged the convention "will definitely be smaller than last year," but said more than 5,000 attendees have already preregistered.

The drop has been attributed to continued MSO consolidation; the reduced number of cable operators at the show; financial troubles that have roiled certain MSOs and equipment vendors; a theme some content providers perceive to be tech-heavy; and disappointment in last year's convention on the part of some programmers.

Interest from exhibitors and attendees has picked up in recent weeks, Yanowitz said.

"On Sept. 24, we had 142 exhibitors," he said. "Today [Nov. 14], we have 185."

The Western Show's new moniker — "Broadband Plus: the New Western Show" — appears to be a one-year phenomenon. This is first and the last year it will be used, Yanowitz said.

"[It] may have initially created some confusion in the marketplace," he said. "I anticipate that we will go back to becoming the Western Show next year. Everybody still refers to it as the Western Show."

Last-minute discounts

Hoping for last-minute registrations, Yanowitz said the CCTA has offered significant discounts to encourage operators to send employees to the show.

One regional MSO is sending 130 employees, said Yanowitz, while another operator will dispatch 150 staffers. He declined to name those companies.

The litmus test for the show will be the attendance level for the chairman's reception, said one industry source. But even if top-level executive attendance is down, there won't be too much gloom in the room, the source predicted.

"It will be much more upbeat for the people who are attending," the source said. "There are good stories in [video-on-demand], data and business services."

Like last year, few programmers plan to exhibit, with ABC Cable Networks Group, NBC Cable and Hallmark Channel among the exceptions.

The 180-plus vendors on the floor are largely equipment manufacturers. And the 10th anniversary of Cable Television Laboratories Inc.'s CableNet exhibit will feature 48 exhibitors.

Sources said many programmers sold off their large booths after shifting to the small suites that the National Cable & Telecommunications Association made available at May's National Show in New Orleans. A handful of programmers — including Starz Encore Group LLC, Lifetime Television, Turner Broadcasting System Inc. and AMC — have signed up for hospitality suites.

A number of the programming executives who plan to attend are pitching broadband-related applications, such as programming on-demand, high-definition TV or Web content.

The heads of Home Box Office, Showtime Networks Inc. and Starz will appear on a Dec. 4 panel session, one day after Comcast Corp. president Brian Roberts kicks things off in a one-on-interview with CNBC's Bill Griffeth.

"It does feel like a more modest environment," said Starz Encore vice president of subscription VOD Greg DePrez. "The big guys are scaling back."

Starz is pushing SVOD and will have executives at the show and on panel sessions. "But it won't be a large contingent," De Prez said.

"We are already getting calls to meet," he added, including queries from international operators.

Discovery Networks U.S. won't be on the floor or book a suite, but a smattering of its executives will be there, including vice president of new media Clint Stinchcomb.

"There are some important messages to get out with the new products, not least of which is HDTV," Stinchcomb said. The Western Show does provide an opportunity for cable "to tell the full story" at year-end, he said.

Meetings, not booths

It's the same story for Showtime. "The primary reason to go to a show is to learn and to see our clients," said executive vice president of sales and affiliate marketing Jeff Wade. "Using an expensive booth with all the trappings is no longer an efficient way to see and sell our clients.

"We still attend shows as appropriate and think the Western Show is a fine show, and we have executives slated as speakers," Wade said. "We just don't need a big booth to show our support."

Scientific-Atlanta Inc., which will showcase its advanced set-top boxes, might be the prototypical tech vendor, returning to the floor with 30 percent fewer people and a smaller booth — 40 feet by 50 feet, compared with 70 feet by 70 feet.

"There are enough key people who are going to be there," said vice president, marketing of subscription services Jenifer Cistola. "Our real focus is the Explorer 8000."

The fact that Time Warner Cable, a top S-A client, won't be there in force isn't that crucial, she said, because the MSO is already sold on the 8000's digital video recording capabilities.

"The other guys may not have the message," said Cistola.

Most of cable's traditional equipment vendors are returning, including ADC Telecommunications Inc.; Arris Corp.; C-COR.net Corp.; CommScope Inc.; Concurrent Computer Corp.; Harmonic Inc.; Liberate Technologies; Microsoft Corp.; Motorola Inc.; nCUBE Corp.; Pace Micro Technology plc; Panasonic; Pioneer Electronics Corp.; S-A; and SeaChange International Inc.

They will be joined by a newer crop of vendors building equipment for the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification, Internet-protocol telephony and VOD sectors, including BigBand Networks, CedarPoint Communications, Internet Photonics, IP Unity, Juniper Networks, Narad Networks and Syndeo Corp., many of which will take part in CableNet.

MSOs are mixed

MSO attendance will be mixed. Time Warner Cable is holding a concurrent senior management retreat elsewhere in the country.

A Cox Communications Inc. spokesman said it didn't appear that CEO Jim Robbins would attend, but Cox is sending about 10 officers, plus directors and regional personnel from its West Coast systems.

Charter Communications Inc. CEO Carl Vogel, Insight Communications Co. CEO Michael Willner and Mediacom Communications Corp. CEO Rocco Commisso will appear on a Dec. 5 opening panel. Tom Rutledge, head of Cablevision Systems Corp.'s New York operation, also will be on hand.

After the Griffeth-Roberts interview, Griffeth will lead a panel discussion with Chris Albrecht, chairman and CEO of HBO; Matt Blank, chairman and CEO of Showtime Networks; Josh Sapan, president and CEO of Rainbow Media Holdings; John Sie, founder, chairman and CEO of Starz Encore; and Anne Sweeney, president of ABC Cable Networks.

Suite deals

A handful of programmers are taking hospitality suites. HBO, Scripps Networks, Lifetime, Turner and Universal Television Group signed for the $10,000 gold sponsorship level, which includes a hotel suite, four delegate registrations and other promotional opportunities.

AMC Networks, AOL Broadband, Conexant Systems, DVA Group, Fox Cable Networks Group, In Demand LLC, Motive Communications, N2 Broadband, Starz Encore, Techtv, Accenture Inc., Comedy Central, Oxygen Media and Pax TV have signed on as silver sponsors, which gives them a hotel suite, two delegate registrations and assorted promotional opportunities for $5,000.

That leaves a bevy of programmers, including MTV Networks, A&E Television Networks, ESPN, Discovery, Showtime, E! Entertainment Television and The Weather Channel without a floor or suite presence.

Multichannel News
will also be sending a smaller reporting contingent than usual, supporting a Multichannel Newsday
show daily that is smaller than in years past.

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