Consumer Electronics Show Lures Cablers

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Travel budgets may be down industry-wide, but more cable executives are expected to attend this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas than any prior edition, according to Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro.

CEOs, marketing vice presidents and chief technology officers from several of the major MSOs are expected to be among the more than 100,000 attendees of the CES, which runs from Tuesday, Jan. 8, through Friday, Jan. 11.

Overall attendance could be down slightly from last year, Shapiro estimated, but not to the same extent as at other industry trade shows held in recent months.

"I expect a very good show," Shapiro said. "People in the industry are very upbeat."

Despite the economic slowdown, consumer-electronics retailers had a very good fourth quarter, Shapiro said, strengthened perhaps by the consumer trend of cocooning with home entertainment products.

CES will play host to a Cable Television Laboratories Inc.-sponsored tour by MSO CEOs and members of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association board, Shapiro said. Among the expected attendees are Comcast Corp. president Brian Roberts, Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt, Cox Communications Inc. CEO Jim Robbins, AT&T Broadband CEO Bill Schleyer and Charter Communications president Carl Vogel.

The cable chiefs were invited to a special dinner that will also include members of Congress and other government officials. CTOs from top MSOs will also be allowed to tour the show floor a day before it's opened to general attendees, Shapiro said.

CableLabs president Richard Green said his trade group has a long history of arranging meetings between MSO chiefs and leaders from other industries. Past CableLabs tours have included visits to consumer-electronics companies in Japan, Silicon Valley CEOs and top U.S. CE retailers.

"Generally, these meetings are very positive," Green said. "Both sides are looking for ways to have their companies be more effective in the marketplace."

Green said he expects the cable executives to pay close attention to wide-screen digital televisions, home-networking equipment and personal video recorders. "We want to support the technologies customers are buying," he said.

To help speed the adoption of HDTV, the CEA plans to announce on Wednesday a joint consumer education campaign with the National Association of Broadcasters, which is also sending a coalition to CES.

The Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing will lead a tour of marketing executives at CES. CTAM president Char Beales and senior vice president of marketing Seth Morrison will head the group, which is also expected to include top MSO marketers, such as Dave Watson of Comcast, Joe Rooney of Cox and Nancy McGee of AT&T Broadband.

CES is typically a big show for direct-broadcast satellite providers DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp. This year, the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association will host a special SkyForum event to make up for the one canceled the week of Sept. 11.

Charter vice president of marketing Rick Lang said he's going to CES, partly to spot new products that would tie into Charter's home-networking ideas. He also wants to see what's new in HDTV, as the MSO is trialing it in three markets.

Lang added that Charter is in preliminary discussions with its retail partners on possible joint HD marketing campaigns.