Familiar Digs, New Era for NCTA Show

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In some ways, next month’s National Show in New Orleans will look a little like the 1988 convention held in Los Angeles.

There were about 160,000 square feet of exhibit space and 294 exhibitors in 1988.

After peaking at the 2000 convention with a whopping 349,000 square feet — and dropping significantly over the last couple of years — organizers expect about 300 exhibitors to fill 165,000 square feet in New Orleans, putting the show in line with figures seen at the 1988 convention.

New Orleans itself is oh-so familiar turf: Six prior National Shows have been held at the Morial Center, including the 2000 and 2002 editions.

But the number of exhibitors and the size of the show floor are the only traits that this year’s convention, which runs from May 1 to 5, will have in common with the shows of yesteryear.

TECH ANCHORS

While cable programmers will once again draw attention at the show, technology exhibits will anchor this year’s convention. One corner of the convention hall will contain a new, 8,000-square foot Broadband Home exhibit featuring video-on-demand technology and consumer-electronics companies such as Sony Corp., Panasonic Consumer Electronics and Zenith Electronics Corp. touting HDTV displays.

The opposite corner of the convention center will contain the CableNET display organized by Cable Television Laboratories Inc.

CableNET ran at the Western Show for several years, but the exhibit, containing future wireless, telephony and interactive television products, will become an annual National Show staple, since the California Cable & Telecommunications Association folded the Western Show in November.

With the demise of the Western Show — which rivaled the National Show in size during the 1990s — NCTA officials expect National Show attendance will continue to increase. But they said the impact of the end of the Western Show might be more evident next year.

“Cable 2004, being just six months away from the Western Show, is probably not the best year to use as an example of what happens with one show. It’s just too close,” said NCTA senior vice president of industry affairs Barbara York.

Last year’s National Show, held in Chicago, drew about 16,000 attendees. York said she expects to draw “at least the same” amount of people that attended the 2003 convention.

NCTA traditionally draws senior-level management from MSO corporate offices. But with consolidation leaving a handful of major operators in control of most of the industry, exhibitors have said they see fewer cable operators attending the convention.

Looking to boost attendance, NCTA has cut its registration fees for system-level cable employees for a second year in a row. It is charging system employees $205 for a two-day pass that will give them access to general sessions, the exhibit floor and a public policy lunch.

Registration fees remain the same as 2002. The full program for NCTA members costs $650, while nonmembers must pay $850.

EXHIBITORS THINK SMALL

While NCTA expects about 300 exhibitors at the convention — up from 192 last year in Chicago — York said companies continue to buy smaller exhibits. The smallest exhibits will be in the CableNET and Broadband Home sections, where exhibitors will hawk their products on small pedestals.

More than 30 companies opted to rent executive suites on the floor, including Home Box Office, Showtime Networks Inc., Scripps Networks and PanAmSat Corp. The NCTA began offering the less-expensive suite option to exhibitors last year in a bid to keep them from bolting to nearby hotels to hold meetings.

The largest booths will be occupied by Microsoft Corp. and Motorola Inc., which each bought exhibits running 60,000 square feet, York said.

There are 72 first-time exhibitors, mostly technology companies. They include TiVo Inc., Juniper Networks and Universal Remote Control Inc.

There are also several upstart cable programmers exhibiting, including Larry Flynt’s Hustler TV, gay network Here! TV, The Tennis Channel and Anime Network.

Tennis chairman David Meister said the network previously had a deal to set up shop in Comedy Central’s booth at the show, before Viacom took full ownership of Comedy and ended a deal in which Comedy’s affiliate sales team pitched Tennis to cable operators.

Meister said Tennis has scheduled some “fairly high-level” meetings with corporate MSO officials, but he said the channel is also hoping to meet with regional and system-level executives.

He said Tennis also has some new carriage deals to announce, but that the network plans to wait until May 15 to make the announcements, when it celebrates its one-year anniversary.

UPSTARTS BUY BOOTHS

Anime Network president Kevin Corcoran said the network will exhibit at NCTA for the first time with a 30-by-30-foot booth that will be surrounded with “huge screens” running Anime programming.

The upstart programmer, which has deals to supply on-demand programming to Comcast Corp. and Cablevision Systems Corp., plans to release the details of the June launch of its 24-hour linear network and carriage deals the week before the show, Corcoran said.

“I think the buzz about Anime’s success on VOD is really widespread now,” said Rasenberger Media president Cathy Rasenberger, who handles affiliate sales for the network. “We’re going to blow it out and let the cable industry know we have arrived.”

BIG-TENT APPROACH

The NCTA has sought to broaden the convention’s scope by recruiting other industry organizations to host panel sessions, including the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing, Women in Cable & Telecommunications and the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications.

The Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers will run a general session on May 2, and will also host the first all-Spanish session, focused on new technology in Latin America.

“We’ve absolutely been very encompassing with our big tent approach, and every cable organization is in the show, doing a session of some sort,” York said.

Outside companies are also sponsoring events at the convention, including Interactive TV Today, which will sponsor an awards presentation. And Multichannel News and Broadcasting & Cable will sponsor a brunch on May 2, to focus on the state of the Hispanic television marketplace.

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