Buenos Aires, Argentina -- The booth space was bigger and
glitzier than ever last week at Latin America's largest cable show, Jornadas.
But at the same time, program suppliers that are members of
the TAP Latin America group also met here to discuss the dramatic changes that they would
like to see in the show -- changes that could see it becoming a market aimed at consumers,
or shrinking considerably.
Jornadas, officially known as Cable '98, was expected
to have an attendance of about 20,000. And although it's generally considered to be
well-organized and run by Argentina's cable association, ATVC, the convention is
feeling the effects of dramatic changes in the Argentine cable market.
Due to consolidation in recent years, three MSOs --
Multicanal, CableVisión/TCI2 and Supercanal -- now control the lion's
share of subscribers. The 2,000 mom-and-pop cable-systems companies that used to operate
in the interior of Argentina now number about 600, with only some 2,000 customers each.
There's little wonder that most attendees at last
week's show noted that floor traffic was not as heavy as in recent years.
It no longer makes sense for large programming-network
groups to build exhibits that some say cost between $250,000 and $300,000 -- and
that's before the costs associated with staffing them.
Adding fuel to the fire, the consolidated MSOs are now
looking for cuts of about 25 percent in subscriber-fee rates, even before affiliate
contracts come up for renewal. So the amount of revenue that operators make from Argentina
as a whole could likely drop over the next year.
"Everyone is suffering," said Andy Terentjev,
vice president of international-affiliate sales for Latino women's network Gems
International Television. Referring to general trends within the market, he said he has
witnessed "a 25 percent drop [in programming rates] over the last 18 months."
"Some amount of marketing needs to be done. But boy, I
wish there was a less expensive way," said Richard Phillips, executive vice president
of MGM Networks.
One possible solution is "to make [Jornadas] a fair
for the public -- to take it to the streets," said Genaro Rionda, CEO of Latin
American Pay Television, which owns two Latino movie channels.
He and other programmers noted that a book fair targeted to
consumers draws 1 million attendees here annually, and that aiming at
"end-users" with a fair could become a great marketing tool.
ATVC's president, Horacio Guibelalde, acknowledged
that Jornadas has to stay abreast of industry changes and "evolve with them." A
consumer-oriented show "could provide a high-profile space for mass marketing to the
public," he added.
Some exhibitors saw drawbacks, however. Such an event could
be more expensive and less productive, said Jodie McAffe, vice president of marketing at
Hallmark Entertainment Networks.
"We could better spend the money by spending it on
initiatives, which go straight to the consumer," he added.
What's more, McAffe and others agreed that peer
pressure will probably dissuade exhibitors from pulling out of Jornadas.