Backtalk: Cable 98 Diary

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Sat., May 2: I had an interesting flightout this afternoon, spending some quality in-air time with Steve J. Heyer, president andCOO of Turner Broadcasting System Inc. Heyer was getting in early to attend acompany-hosted wedding shower for Betty Cohen, president of Cartoon Network Worldwide.Heyer, who had been based in New York, said he was moving to Atlanta, and he had justpurchased a house in the Buckhead section, three blocks away from where former TBS honchoScott Sassa -- who now heads up the NBC owned-and-operated stations in New York -- hadlived.

Later that evening, Multichannel News grouper BillMcGorry and I, who were taking our own international editorial staff out to dinner atMumbo Jumbo, unabashedly crashed Cohen's party, which was coincidentally -- really --being held upstairs in a party room. With champagne in hand, we congratulated Cohen, whowill be marrying a professor of epidemiology from Emory University next week. A radiantCohen explained how Sassa, who was in attendance for her shower, put the gig together withfour other top Turner executives. "I've never had a shower thrown by fivemen," she gushed.

Sun., May 3: Things were not looking so rosy at 8:54a.m., just six minutes before Multichannel News International was due to open itsfirst "International Summit," held in tandem with the National Cable TelevisionAssociation. Only a handful of people -- six, to be exact -- were around. Our fears weresoon allayed 10 minutes later, when our overseas attendees -- some quite jet-lagged --packed the room, and the event went off smoothly. Next year, we promise to start theproceedings a little later.

With the pressures of running a first-time conferencebehind us, several of us headed off to the Cable Pioneers dinner -- which was combinedwith a new event, the induction of the six Cable Hall of Famers -- at the lovinglyrestored Fox Theater. The festivities went on for at least five hours, but it was kind offun to watch the pioneers mingle with the up-and-comers in the business, who are generallynot invited to this private affair. Next year, several of the event's organizerspromised, the program will run shorter.

Mon., May 4: On a scale of one to 10, I'd give theopening session a six. There, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates regaled the crowd with hisdemonstration of how cable's broadband structure, coupled with Windows CE, wouldwork. Playing to a wary crowd, there was seemingly deliberately next to no time forquestions from the audience. Afterward, operators grumbled that they didn't exactlyappreciate this "arrogant outsider" telling them how they should run theirbusiness. But you have to admit that his demo was awesome, replete with voice recognitionvia Petey the Parrot.

Later that night, at the chairman's reception, I heardfrom Tele-Communications Inc. president and COO Leo J. Hindery Jr. and others aboutGates' prowess on the golf course. Gates, an accomplished golfer, teed up with sevenexecutives from cable, including Hindery. The match was supposed to be an opportunity for"bonding," but, as some told the story, Hindery crossed paths with Gates onlyonce or twice. That was because Hindery, who is not much of a golfer, "played most ofhis game in the rough."

Tues., May 5: In what was pretty much a news-freeconvention, reporters had a field day getting down to a clarification that TCI maderegarding chairman John Malone's earlier remarks about the MSO's position onHDTV. Earlier in the afternoon, Malone told a gaggle of reporters (see our editedtranscript on page 1) about how he would not voluntarily carry digital-broadcast signalstransmitted in the 1080-interlace format. That comment ignited so many embers that hourslater, TCI issued a statement saying that its set-top can pass through any of the proposedformats, including 1080i. Back in the pressroom, NCTA president Decker Anstrom, looking ashade uncomfortable, tried to explain the industry's position on carrying HDTVsignals. At the other end of the pressroom, two equally distressed-looking TCIpublic-relations executives tried to spin reporters about the about-face, to no avail.

Wed., May 6: How did Jeff Bewkes, chairman, presidentand CEO of HBO; Rich Bilotti, media analyst for Morgan Stanley; and a host of cableexecutives spend the last morning of the convention? All, including myself, were part of acaptive and grumpy audience watching New Line Cinema's The Wedding Singer, anin-flight movie that we saw on the ground at the gate in Atlanta, onboard the 10:30 a.m.Delta flight to fog-bound New York. The plane finally got off the ground at 12:50 p.m.,and we got to see the movie twice.

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