Longtime Western Show exhibitors are continuing to race to the exit door. Discovery Communications Inc. said last week it would not return to the annual convention next year, after 15 years of exhibiting.
"Consolidation in the industry has made it more difficult to justify the expense and presence," said Discovery senior vice president of corporate communications Lynn McReynolds. "The show is really a booming show, but it has become much more technology oriented."
Many exhibitors at the recent Western Show also complained that few cable-operator executives-their core customers-were on the floor.
Show sponsor California Cable Television Association wouldn't disclose how many cable operators attended the Western Show, one of the industry's two big annual gatherings. But CCTA vice president of industry affairs C.J. Hirschfield said "we had a huge number of folks from DirecTV [Inc.] and what you would call overbuilders" in attendance.
"That is a value to programmers as well," she added. "They're not just selling to cable operators anymore."
Cox Communications Inc., which has a big presence in Southern California, appeared to send fewer executives than in years past, as the company is trying to trim travel expenses. Spokeswoman Amy Cohn said Cox's corporate presence was "comparable" to previous conventions, but local systems may have sent fewer people.
AT&T Broadband senior vice president of public relations Rob Stoddard said his company probably sent fewer staffers as well.
"My sense of it is, because we are closely guarding expenses during this day and age, that our attendance was probably more modest than in previous years," Stoddard said.
E! Entertainment officials said Friday that the network won't exhibit next year, citing light MSO attendance as the deciding factor.
Before the show, Starz Encore Media Group, Showtime Networks Inc. and Playboy Entertainment Group Inc. turned heads when they announced they would not exhibit at the 2000 confab.
"Even though we took some flack at the time, people are now saying, 'You know, these guys were right,'" Starz Encore senior vice president of marketing and business development Mike Hale said.
In addition to Discovery, Starz Encore, Playboy and Showtime, Home Box Office and pay-per-view vendor In Demand said they would not return to the Western Show next year. NBC Cable is also considering significantly scaling back the size of its booth at next year's convention, a company executive said.
Rainbow Media Holdings Inc. also is considering not returning, a source said.
There could be several more defections before next year's convention, which will be held in Anaheim, Calif.
"Everyone is talking about it," one network executive said.
Though Discovery, HBO, Showtime and Playboy plan to exhibit at the National Show in June, it will "probably" be the last National Show for which In Demand will buy an exhibit, said vice president of corporate communications Joe Boyle.
"It's a huge expenditure," Boyle said. "From our standpoint, we need to look at how to spend that money more wisely within our marketing department."
In Demand will continue to exhibit at regional conventions, Boyle said.
Costs definitely play a part. The large booths that some of the established programmers traditionally purchase cost between $800,000 to $1 million in transportation, storage and construction charges, several sources said. That doesn't include the money exhibitors spend on airfare and lodging for the people who staff the booths.
Starz Encore saved "hundreds of thousands of dollars" by sending 15 sales executives to hold about 30 meetings with operators in hotel suites it booked for the week instead of exhibiting, said Hale.
Hirschfield said she respected the decision by some of the established programmers to exit the show floor.
"I'm not going to argue against business decisions that our members make," she said. "We are all acutely aware of what the business climate is right now."
There are some drawbacks for the networks that withdraw from the show, some industry executives noted. CCTA relies on exhibit fees to help support its efforts to lobby against issues like open access and digital must-carry-issues in which traditional programmers have a stake.
Hirschfield emphasized that the networks that are leaving the exhibit floor have told the CCTA that they will continue to support the show. Next year, the trade group will likely allow programmers to buy signage in public areas of the convention center, something that's been strictly prohibited in the past, Hirschfield said.
On Dec. 1, the last day of the Western Show, CCTA held a drawing for exhibits at the 2001 convention. Hirshfield said only 208 of the 473 exhibitors from the prior convention participated in the drawing, but the CCTA would hold additional drawings early next year.
Regional trade shows also have been hit hard by industry consolidation. The latest example: the Great Lakes Cable Expo said on Nov. 29 it would not hold a convention next year. The next show will be in February 2002 instead of September 2001.
GLCE expo board president Ed Kozelek said many attendees and exhibitors had complained that September was a difficult month to travel, because that's when they traditionally plan their budgets. The expo is also being trimmed to two days from the usual three to require just one night in a hotel-saving costs for exhibitors and attendees, he added.