Just Another Tricky Week

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Maybe the shenanigans and the tomfoolery will return in 2004." That was one of my favorite overheard quotes at the recent, serene Western Show. Sadly, that wish seems pretty unlikely to be fulfilled, assuming said S-and-T means MTV: Music Television importing rock bands or porn networks heaving, uh, models on display.

But it's interesting to note that many programmer executives were at the show. One of them agreed with what another one of them told me during the show: "A lot of little business got done." Meetings with MSO chieftains — including one (involving Mediacom Communications Corp.'s Rocco Commisso) that apparently got blurted out at a general session — kept network execs happy.

The floor, by the time I got to it on Thursday, was a mellow place, devoid of noise and absent long lines of tchotchke-seekers. That brings me to one of my other favorite lines at the show, from Cox Communications Inc.'s Lynne Elander. She was on a video-on-demand panel that attracted about 250 people in chairs and at least 100 more who stood for the whole session. Her quip: the people standing were all programmers who didn't have to work at a booth and didn't want to walk the show floor.

My colleague Matt Stump — who moderated Elander's panel — had another good line (which I hope he hasn't already used in print). He said the show floor was like Emerging Technologies and the panel sessions were like a CTAM Summit.

Maybe the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing —which had its own marketing-centric session at Anaheim — wouldn't like that characterization, but those seem to be the two logical focuses for a big cable show: new technology and how to market the services that technology spawns.

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"It was a quiet week in Lake Wobegon…" That was a line I actually got to hear in person, at a Garrison Keillor broadcast from snowy New York, Friday night after returning from 70-degree Anaheim. I realize it's stretching things a bit to get that in here, but I found it a little amazing how unquiet last week actually was in cabledom. Don't these people know it's practically Christmas?

First, EchoStar Communications Corp. and DirecTV Inc., in a bit of a surprise, amicably settled the matter of EchoStar's $600 million merger-breakup fee, a matter some thought EchoStar CEO Charlie Ergen would fight, or at least try to stretch out. Then came Charter Communications Inc.'s reorganization, with (little surprise here) "significant" layoffs, which industry types are figuring will be in the 1,000 to 1,500 range. That analyst report that recently pointed out Charter has one employee for every 358 subscribers — versus Comcast Corp.'s 1-to-425 ratio — was right on the money.

Matt Bond came in to Comcast to do what Tom Hurley had been doing there, while Hurley gets to run the old AT&T Broadband's Digital Media Centers. That one, few, if any, saw coming.

DirecTV gets to keep "NFL Sunday Ticket" as an exclusive for a while longer, preserving an essential subscriber draw from cable.

Those of us in New York City had to juggle all this and other news while keeping one ear glued to updates about a potential bus and subway strike. Don't feel too sorry for us, though. As Keillor pointed out in the monologue about the quiet week, amid the suffering of the Blitz, Londoners partied quite a bit. Mankind thrives on adversity, the man says. We'll see.

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