CTPAA Forum Focuses on Broadband, Budgets

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Broadband, budgets, strategic direction and even the Ted Koppel controversy were among the highlights of last week's Cable Television Public Affairs Association's annual conference here.

In what appeared to be a preview of the upcoming National Show's "Connecting America" theme — and in anticipation of a critical Federal Communications Commission ruling later in the week [see page one] — National Cable & Telecommunications Association president and CEO Robert Sachs used his keynote speech to stress cable's broadband advantages, and its limitations.

Sachs praised cable's infrastructure investment, high level of cable-modem penetration and its lead over digital subscriber line technology. But he also cautioned that cable shouldn't be pushed to abandon its "steady, deliberate and focused approach."

Singled out for criticism was TechNet, a high-tech consortium that advocates the widespread deployment of a 100-mbps broadband connection by the end of the decade.

"They offer a field of dreams, but overlook that others would bear the cost of building it," Sachs said.

Sachs's broadband message resonated with the cable public-relations executives in attendance, who cited high-speed data services as a prime example of how their job responsibilities have increased over the last few years.

DO MORE; WITH LESS

But many CTPAA members were concerned that their budgets are being squeezed as they're asked to do more. "Handling increasingly broad and strategic accountabilities on a limited budget" remains one of cable's biggest grassroots PR challenges, said new CTPAA president Ellen East.

The association itself is in the final stages of reviewing a "new strategic plan" that should be ready by mid-summer, said East, Cox Communications Inc.'s vice president of communications and investor relations. A merger with the NCTA is not under consideration, she said.

Forum 2002 even made national headlines this year. Luncheon speaker Chris Matthews of MSNBC weighed in on the controversy involving Ted Koppel's Nightline
and The Walt Disney Co. Disney executives had been negotiating with David Letterman, host of CBS's Late Show, to come to its ABC network and replace Nightline.

"If the show's so good, why doesn't he show up?" Matthews asked.

The conference included two days of sessions and workshops centered around its theme of unifying cable's PR messages in a competitive marketplace. It also featured the annual Beacon Awards for excellence in public-affairs campaigns.

VH1 president John Sykes and Cablevision Systems Corp. president and CEO Jim Dolan shared presidents awards.

In addition to electing East as the new CTPAA president, VH1's Bob Morrison was elected vice president, Charter's Anita Lamont treasurer and C-SPAN's Peter Kiley secretary.

CTPAA's new board of directors includes ESPN's Rosa Gatti; AT&T Broadband's Rick Jenkinson; Jean Margaret Smith of Nickelodeon; Maryann Kafer of the Ohio Cable Telecommunications Association; and NBC Cable Networks' Mark Hotz.

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