National Show Star Power


Wow, Al Gore came to the National Show to hold a press conference about a programming venture. We haven’t seen that kind of unabashed star power since, what, a year ago, when Michael Jackson came to the National Show to hold a press conference about a programming venture?

Jackson’s visit to Chicago — to talk about a bunch of projects he was going to do for MBC Network, from which he’s probably been a bit distracted — caused more of a commotion on the show floor. There were stories of this or that cable mogul straining to get a glimpse at the onetime pop king.

By contrast, the man who would have been president convened a polite, rather sedate gathering, where reporters kept addressing him as “Mr. Vice President.” Maybe that’s because we’re media scribes, or just guys with a press pass to a cable convention, and this was our moment to imagine ourselves as White House correspondents.

I finally toured the Broadband Home a few hours later and watched a clip of the Gore press conference, which took place scant yards away, on CNN Headline News on the bathroom-mirror TV. It was like a broadband echo chamber.

The most surreal thing for me was listening to Gore and partner Joel Hyatt, the storefront law-firm entrepreneur, talking about how much they want to get into the “dynamic” cable television business — not necessarily as a platform or a medium to make the world a better place for informed 20-year-olds, though they talked about that too. As a business. And that Gore was through with running for office and wanted to dig into running a cable programmer.

Maybe 10 years ago, they’d have been launching a dot-com with millions in capital behind them. Probably wouldn’t have gone very far. But at least they could have gotten going in a hurry with an instant (potential) worldwide audience.

Newsworld International does have a platform of about 17 million homes, including on DirecTV, which is where I saw it first last summer and discovered how uncompelling Canadian news programming could be. But there’s a lot more work to be done to get to full distribution.

A lot of startup cable programmers here who could share with Gore and Hyatt how little interest cable companies have in adding new so-called “linear” channels. I overheard a consultant to one of those startups at the airport talking about how every single cable company he met with seemed to be reading from the same script: We’re not launching any new 24-7 linear channels at this time. If you have an on-demand or interactive application, let’s talk.

Star power will get you that first meeting, Mr. Vice President (wow, I do kind of feel a White House thing going on just saying that). And I’m sure those cable guys will be oh so nice and encouraging at first. But be very patient. And don’t forget to pack an on-demand or interactive application.