Defying the bleak economic picture that's plagued the technology sector and resulted in regular earnings warnings and layoffs by the thousands, the 2001 edition of the Cable-Tec Expo will likely show year-to-year increases in exhibitors and attendees, thank you very much.
One reason why this year's show will buck the trend can be found in a football metaphor, explained Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) president and CEO John Clark.
At the most basic level of the game, a team can't move the ball without a skilled offensive line, and it can't stop the opposition without a strong defensive front with sound tackling skills. Sure, they aren't the most glamorous elements of a good team, but they're still among the most important.
"We're very encouraged," said Clark when asked whether the present patch of economic ground would result in a rough ride for this year's show. "In a tough market, it's usually the blocking and tackling that is focused on."
To that point, Clark noted that field deployment has been tremendously important for cable operators who are getting digital services up and running so they can meet financial-market expectations.
"Even in a challenging market out there for trade shows, there is still high interest in engineering and hardware in our industry," Clark said.
He predicted that this year's Expo will have more attendees than the 2001 edition, and said exhibit space has already exceeded last year's final number.
The 2000 show in Las Vegas welcomed a sold-out floor of about 450 exhibitors and more than 11,000 attendees.
Though most of this Expo will focus on the U.S. marketplace, SCTE's international influence appears to be spreading. This week's show is expected to welcome attendees from 30 countries, Clark said.
Nonetheless, the SCTE's 2001 version of Expo has "seen some impact," Clark said. "We will grow in both attendance and exhibit space, but I think our rate of growth may slow down slightly."
Expo's recent string of growth would arguably be difficult to duplicate even in a market that's hitting on all cylinders. Expo 2000, for instance, was 40 percent larger than 1998's tilt.
"A 20-percent annual growth rate would be difficult to achieve in today's marketplace," Clark said. "I think we'll continue to grow, but at a slower rate."
But walk-up registrations could boost the figures for this year's Expo, as they did at January's Conference on Emerging Technology in New Orleans, he added.
A good portion of this year's growth can be attributed to at least 72 first-time exhibitors, helping in part to fill a 180,000-square-foot hall.
That list of first-timers is made up of a blend of start-ups and well-entrenched technology veterans, including component vendor Anadigics Inc.; Tony Werner-led Aurora Networks Inc.; next-generation cable-modem-termination-system developer Cadant Inc.; broadband infrastructure start-up Narad Networks Inc.; set-top software developer Open TV Corp.; consumer-electronics giant Thomson Multimedia; and technical outsource firm ViaSource Communications Inc.
Though workforce reductions are painful for those caught in their sticky web, a number of people who fell victim to recent layoff rounds are expected to do some heavy-duty networking at this week's show.
Still, the strength of Expo is that it brings together buyers and sellers, Clark said.
"(Expo) matches both vendors and customers in two areas: engineering and hardware," he added.
Like the Expos that preceded it, this year's gathering is built around a theme that highlights gear and systems ready for deployment today: "Experience the Solutions."
"Expo doesn't focus on the theoretical," Clark said. "It focuses on the practical here and now, for the engineers who are involved in the here and now."
EXPO DRAWS BRASS
As cable's latest toolbox of nuts and bolts is opened on the showroom floor and sessions tread down the return path, open access and video-on-demand should continue to be major draws. A spate of big industry names will also be on hand to provide a broader perspective.
For example, SCTE has landed National Cable & Telecommunications Association president and CEO Roberts Sachs as Wednesday morning's keynote speaker. His speech will be followed by a CEO panel led by Insight Communications Co. chief Michael Willner, Liberty Digital Inc. president and CEO Lee Masters and Scientific-Atlanta Inc. broadband networks president Allen Ecker.
On the technical front, Expo's CTO panel will feature Home Box Office senior vice president of technical operations Bob Zitter, AT&T Broadband executive vice president and CTO Greg Braden, Cox Communications Inc. senior vice president of engineering and CTO Chris Bowick and Liberate Technologies president and COO Coleman Sisson.
Providing a cross of high-level and more narrowly focused sessions enables attendees to "match up topics to their personal level of interest," Clark said.
One topic that could generate high interest has little to do with pure engineering and hardware. "Building Your Technical Team" is a workshop led by Comcast Corp. CTO Brad Dusto, who will demonstrate techniques to hire, train and retain a strong technical corps.
He'll be joined by National Cable Television Institute vice president of learning and development Alan Babcock, Comcast University director of technical learning and development Pamela Nobles, Comcast vice president of recruiting and career development Beth Arnholt and SCTE training director Debbie Manoff.
"Adding the training and retention piece is a new extension based on expressed attendee interest," Clark said.
Also new to this year's Expo docket with be Thursday evening's Women in Cable & Telecommunications panel, which will explore how a growing number of women in the industry have lifted barriers in the male-dominated technology field.
Confirmed participants are SeaChange International Inc. vice president of interactive technologies Yvette Gordon, Motorola Broadband Communications Sector program manager Sally Kinsman and Society of Women Engineers deputy director of organizational advancement Joan Kuyper.
The addition of WICT to the Expo agenda doesn't mark the first instance in which SCTE has broken ranks to welcomed other industry associations to its sponsored events. For example, the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing presented an interactive-television consumer usage study during January's ET show.
"I have always believed that marketing and tech ops have to be joined at the hip," Clark said.
The CTAM presentation at ET, this week's WICT panel and Sachs' keynote show "some of our results to build bridges to other industry associations and to be a good industry partner," Clark said.
Next up: SCTE will try to build more bridges in San Antonio, site of the 2002 Expo.