Most Nets Pass on NCTA's Suite Option

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Those Spandex-clad models dangling from an indoor climbing wall at Outdoor Life Network's booth — ubiquitous at past National Show conventions — won't make the trip to New Orleans this year.

Instead, OLN and several other exhibitors slated to attend the May convention will leave their large, expensive booths in the warehouse and hold meetings in smaller, prefabricated executive suites on the show floor.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association devised the executive-suite strategy to respond to exhibitors who requested ways to reduce their National Show costs, said Mike Garner, exposition manager for Dobson Associates, the company that runs the convention for the trade group.

Convention organizers also hope the executive suites, which contain conference rooms, will dissuade vendors from passing entirely on the exhibit floor to hold meetings in hotel suites, Garner added.

"It's very expensive to have an exhibit designed, built, crated, shipped, installed and dismantled, and to pay for the freight cost and everything that's associated with it once it hits the loading dock," Garner said.

Most exhibitors, though, are sticking with their old booths, Garner said.

Only 11 out of 104 registered exhibitors opted for the suites, which come in three sizes: 20-by-20 feet, 30-by-30 and 50-by-50.

Networks backed by Comcast Corp. represent the biggest group of exhibitors switching from larger booths to the executive suites. They include OLN, E! Entertainment Television, The Golf Channel, QVC and G4, the new video-game channel set to debut in April.

Comcast spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick said the company allowed each of its networks to decide on its own whether to bring a booth or rent a suite.

Scripps Networks, Home Box Office, Comedy Central, Court TV, Oxygen, Showtime and WorldGate Communications Inc. will also take executive suites at the show.

"The way the economy is for all cable networks, I think when you look at the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to bring that booth — the cost just doesn't warrant the return," said E! senior vice president of affiliate relations Brad Fox.

NUMBERS LOOK DOWN

In years past, some large MSOs have encouraged programmers and hardware companies to continue supporting national, state and regional associations by purchasing exhibits at their conventions. But Fox said operators now encourage exhibitors to invest "this money blown on the show" and premiums on programming and marketing.

Through last week, 104 companies had purchased exhibit space at the convention. Garner said that figure has decreased from bookings at this point last year, though he didn't know by how much.

But it appears the National Show will be much smaller than last year's confab, which hosted 342 exhibitors.

G4 chief operating officer Debra Green, who said she used to spend $1 million to exhibit per National Show when she worked at E!, said G4 will spend $60,000 for an executive suite at the upcoming convention.

Green said G4 likely wouldn't have exhibited this year if it wasn't offered the suite option. "I think the idea NCTA came up with regarding suites was brilliant and made us think a lot about attending this year," she added.

Scripps Networks opted for a suite not just because it cuts back on costs, but it's more efficient to hold meetings in a suite, said vice president of communications Cindy McConkey.

Exhibitors who opt for the executive suites must adhere to some restrictions that aren't placed on companies that bring booths, Garner said. Signs can't be hung above the suites, and displays are limited to four-color graphics, which will be placed in the same location in each suite, he said.

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