National Cable & Telecommunications Association officials said about 7,000 fewer people attended last week's National Show than the year before. There were 24,042 attendees, down from 31,110 in New Orleans.
The NCTA said 342 companies bought exhibits, down from 358 last year.
NCTA President Robert Sachs noted that a faltering economy has caused companies to curtail business travel.
"We're affected by the economy just like any other business. And so, if business travel is off by a significant amount, that affects people who work in the cable industry, too," Sachs said. "But by and large, we've had a very good turnout."
MSO consolidation has prompted fewer operators to attend conventions, but there were some heavy hitters on the show floor, including Time Warner Cable president Joe Collins, spotted on Tuesday.
"I think this is kind of a celebration. You get to see what all the new stuff is, and there's a lot of people here who are learning a lot of things," Collins said. "There is really no other place you can go to get a level of knowledge of the cable business like coming to the national convention."
Attendance at other trade shows has also declined. In April, it fell at the National Association of Broadcasters convention for the first time in more than a decade.
Floor space at the National Show dropped to 315,000 square feet from 349,000 last year. The show did draw a lot of press: 470 attendees registered as media representatives, up 40 from last year.
"The traffic at the booth today has been OK. I wouldn't say that it's spectacular. The sense that I get is the flow is a little less than last year, but it's not a significant drop-off," Canal Plus U.S. Technologies vice president of marketing Arthur Orduna said last Monday.
The show also drew some Washington bigwigs: Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell.
To combat such attrition, backers of the winter Western Show in Anaheim will offer operators a "Back to Anaheim" special.
The California Cable Television Association will pay for an undisclosed number of executives to attend the trade show, vice president C.J. Hirschfield said.
"Look at the economic climate. My vendors said, 'The guys we need aren't here,' " Hirschfield said. Exhibitors such as Home Box Office, Discovery Communications Inc. and MTV Networks have already pulled their booths.
The Western Show is scheduled to start Nov. 28, back in Anaheim after a two-year hiatus as the convention center was upgraded.