CTAM 2000, Post-Mortem

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I caught up late last week with CTAM president Char Beales, the association's self-effacing president, who, with her very talented team, staged the group's annual summit in Boston last week, to get her take on how it all went.

Among the many questions I asked her was, "How does it feel to be named 'Cool Woman of Cable 2000?'"

That was the honor bestowed on her by AMC Networks president Kate McEnroe at Romance Classics' party Monday night, which featured a Donna Summer concert.

Beales' response to my question was, "When I told my kids, they howled with laughter, saying, 'Mom, you are not cool.'"

We in the industry, of course, know better than her two prepubescent youngsters, who may not fully know or appreciate what their mother has actually accomplished during her reign as CTAM's guiding force.

Hands down, from all who were polled in my random, informal survey: CTAM 2000 was a major success.

It turned out to be truly inspirational, with the conference kicking off with the main man in the headlines, AOL's Bob Pittman, revving up the crowd, saying cable is in a better position than any other industry to cash in on the Internet economy.

Meanwhile, we in the press all went in thinking he was going to talk about the new AOL Time Warner. For whatever reasons, he didn't go there. I can't say I blame him, knowing that many of Time Warner's executives will soon be taking corporate packages and will not be a part of this exciting landscape.

But his inspirational address set the tone for the rest of the conference, which was all about execution in terms of the cable industry getting down, rolling up its collective sleeves and focusing on new bundled offerings, which, in the final inning, will determine who wins in the new, competitive arena.

Sessions were packed-often standing-room-only. I went to many sessions where I, the ink-stained scribe, and other reporters were not the only people taking copious notes about the pearls of wisdom that were strewn throughout the entire conference.

Everyone seemed to walk away with some nugget and was eager to talk to old and new friends-and there were many newcomers to cable in this throng-during the coffee breaks between sessions. Lots of business cards were exchanged.

That same day, Cox Communications Inc. CEO Jim Robbins said he loses sleep thinking about how his company will roll out new services like high-speed data and telephony.

Session moderator Susan Swain, co-chief operating officer at C-SPAN-who barely made her gig, getting hung up like many attendees in the fog that awashed Boston's Logan Airport for the duration of the entire conference-did an excellent job of drawing out Robbins, who was honored this year by CTAM with its "Grand Tam" award.

She got Robbins-a taciturn leader who gave all credit to his employees, and not himself, for the award-to acknowledge that in the retransmission-consent wars, both sides screwed up because "the consumer loses."

Beales-who does her homework and makes her session moderators and panelists work like sled dogs-even had Rich Cronin, who is now a free agent, having left Fox Family, show up in midvacation, leaving his family behind in Colorado to moderate the closing session.

Cronin tackled his homework assignment with glee, asking friends and colleagues what burning questions they had on their minds for his panelists.

That's the kind of inspiration, interaction, learning and collegiality CTAM elicits. I have to admit that I, too, was scrambling, getting reading for CTAM's upcoming opening lunch at the Western Show.

That's a new twist: CTAM is spinning out its Broadband conference away from the Western Show as a stand-alone event in Silicon Valley in October. In its place, the association will host an opening luncheon and panel discussion.

Beales, ever the diligent taskmaster, had already invited me last month to moderate the Western Show opening-luncheon panel on video streaming.

So I need your help. If you're reading this online, e-mail me with your thoughts about video streaming. Or call, I'm all eyes and ears.