Big Easy Consensus: More Steak Than Sizzle

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New Orleans-The National Show looked good to Decker Anstrom, the former National Cable Television Association president who watched this year's edition as CEO of The Weather Channel.

"It may be that there are fewer cable operators because of consolidation. On the other hand, this broadband infrastructure is attracting all kinds of people from other industries. Look at the last panel," Anstrom said, referring to the session with America Online Inc. president Robert Pittman, Excite@Home Corp. CEO George Bell and Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer. "I think all of that is a statement that the cable business is changing."

Anstrom added: "I think the good news for the cable industry is that there aren't really any external issues preoccupying the industry. This is all about-as [Cox Communications Inc. CEO] Jim Robbins said yesterday-execution, execution, execution."

Adelphia Communications Corp. chairman John Rigas echoed Anstrom's point. "I've been to enough conventions, and sometimes there's a lot more excitement and enthusiasm generated out there. But this convention is all about executing and doing our work that led up to the excitement," Rigas said last Wednesday.

"I think it's a very positive convention because what you see is the deployment of all of these new technologies coming to place with the cable operator particularly," he added.

At 14,000 square feet, Motorola Inc. boasted one of the largest booths. "Monday opened up a bit slow, but Tuesday was excellent," vice president Matthew J. Aden said.

Like several of his technology counterparts, Aden said he was pleased with the traffic and with the amount of actual dealmaking taking place in private.

Liberate Technologies-which was in a pre-initial-public-offering quiet period last year in Chicago-had a splashy, multifaceted booth about twice the size of last year's.

Vice president of marketing Charlie Tritschler said he was more than pleased with the results of that investment-especially with visits from top executives of major MSOs. He noted, though, that the show-floor network performance was spotty, hindering Internet-related demonstrations.

ESPN drove traffic to its booth by opening one side of the mock "stadium" and adding interactive events with area schoolchildren and father-son football stars. By Tuesday afternoon, the booth had run out of 2,000 disposable cameras.

Trio gave out nearly 4,000 billboard bags, although they didn't disappear as rapidly as last year, while new digi-net VH1 Classic produced more than 1,000 custom compact discs.

By the numbers, the show appeared to be a success. Final statistics weren't available at press time, but preliminary numbers included a record preregistration of about 21,000.

About 31,400 badges were distributed by last Wednesday. Attendance in Chicago in 1999 was 29,510. The last year when the number broke 30,000 was 1996 in Los Angeles, when 30,593 registered.

Despite an explosion of technology exhibitors, the number of booths dropped to 339 this year from 362 in 1999 and a peak of 375 in Atlanta in 1998.

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