Not Hellish, Just Hectic

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Whew. The past week that whizzed through New York showed no evidence of the market malaise that Walter Kaitz Foundation honoree Brian Roberts rightly points out has hammered cable stocks and forced both operators and programmers to tighten belts.

The annual Kaitz dinner was as packed as ever, hit its $1.4 million goal and was fully juiced with star executives — we'd like a copy of that snapshot we saw someone take of Ralph Roberts, Jim Robbins and Henry Schleiff, by the way.

The whole week had the feel of a peak-period National Show. Networks like Lifetime Television, A&E Networks and ESPN treated attendees to tickets to Hairspray, Mamma Mia
and The Producers
— with two of the performances benefiting Cable Positive in the process. The Cable & Telecommunications Associations for Marketing's breakfast panel (hosted by colleague Matt Stump) sold out. Women In Cable & Telecommunications's luncheon sold out. The two-day summits staged by NAMIC and Paul Kagan Associates were well attended.

On the Left Coast, at Merrill Lynch & Co.'s conference, such cable execs as Insight Communications Co.'s Kim Kelly were highlighting what's good about the business financially, before flying back East to preach some more. Uptown on Tuesday, Jim Dolan was grinning for pictures with Education Secretary Rod Paige and other dignitaries at a Bronx high school benefiting from Cablevision Systems Corp.'s "Power to Learn" technology program. All over town, as reflected in stories in this week's Multichannel News, top MSO execs were trying to elevate spirits and inspire their peers to keep trying to grow their way out of recession, albeit with an eye to profitability, now that rebuild cycles might finally be ending.

Though the "Adelphia Five" — led by John Rigas, the 2000 Kaitz honoree, and two executive sons accused of looting their company and shareholders — were indicted on Monday, that ritual seemed to barely dent the feel-good mood. MSO execs, including Insight's Michael Willner, did address the Adelphia Communications Corp. scandal head-on when asked about it at forums. And at the Kaitz dinner, Roberts credited Willner and Kelly for catalyzing an effort to standardize some of cable's calculus.

Actual business of the old-fashioned variety — like network launches — got done, too. Rocco Commisso's Mediacom Communications Corp., determined to be treated like one of the big boys, worked out a new agreement with Fox Cable Networks Group that will launch National Geographic Channel on digital, among other changes. Time Warner Cable, with the biggest (but not only) digital cable platform in Manhattan, added Fine Living, Lifetime Real Women and PBS Kids to digital on Tuesday.

There's still uncertainty about the next big "real" cable show — "Broadband Plus: The New Western Show" in Anaheim, Calif., in December. Event organizers, including California Cable & Telecommunications Association president Spencer Kaitz, concede attendance will be down, probably this year and next.

But they envision a "smaller, more focused" Western Show that's along the lines of the National Show in New Orleans this past May, which drew kudos for quality and efficiency. Make it useful, and people will come.

To top it off, the signs grew more certain that the huge spectrum conglomeration that would be EchoStar Communications Corp. and DirecTV Inc. won't come together.

None of this solves cable operators' underlying difficulties concerning the need to reduce debt and curtail capital spending, but to stay innovative in the face of continually innovating satellite competitors while continuing to add incremental revenue. But it couldn't hurt, and it sure made for a whirl of a week.

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