Starz, Techies Bolt National Show

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Washington — Dozens of technology vendors companies have pulled out of next month's National Show in Chicago, with National Cable & Telecommunications Association officials blaming a 15-percent drop in exhibit sales on hard economic times for several tech companies.

While dot-com, interactive television and other tech companies represent the bulk of companies not returning, Starz Encore Media Group also said last week that it would skip this year's NCTA confab.

"The erection of a large booth on the convention floor is almost archaic for us from a business standpoint," said Starz Encore spokesman Paul Jacobson, citing industry consolidation coupled with the disbursement of the company's sales force around the country as reasons for not attending.

Nortel Networks Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. are two of the largest tech companies that won't return. Lucent Technologies also cut back on the size of its booth, NCTA president Robert Sachs said.

According to Cisco spokeswoman Sharon Power, the company pulled out of the convention because it wasn't getting a return on the investment, not because of a recent earnings shortfall. "[The show] seems to be more programming-focused than technology-focused," she said.

Many companies whose names begin with the letter "I" seem to be hardest hit. Among those companies that exhibited last year that won't return this year are: ICTV Inc., iBeam Broadcasting Inc., Source Media Inc.'s Interactive Channel, ISP Channel, Into Networks Inc., Internet Cable Corp., Interactive Software Inc. and Intertec Publishing.

Other companies skipping this year show are Accelerate TV, Adtec Digital, Broadband Services Inc., RespondTV Inc., Harmonic Inc., MBC Network, Metabyte Networks Inc., Mixed Signals Technologies Inc., MoreCom Inc., Multicast ISP Inc., the National Cable Television Cooperative, 5th Avenue Channel Inc.'s Net Video Networks, NetGame Inc., New Frontier Media, MyCity.com, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Princeton Video Image Inc., Product Information Network, Replay Networks Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc.

Sachs didn't appear concerned about the tech company withdrawals last week, seeing the bright side. "We're going to have wider corridors," he said.

NCTA expects about 30,000 attendees at the show, which would be a slight drop from the 32,000 who attended last year's convention in New Orleans, Sachs added.

While Starz Encore won't buy an exhibit, the company will have a presence in the booths of some video-on-demand vendors, pitching a subscription-VOD service, Jacobson said.

Exhibitors the size of Starz Enore typically spend more than $300,000 to buy a booth at the convention, a source said.

To lessen the blow, Starz Encore plans to donate $50,000 to the NCTA, Jacobson said. Exhibits at cable's regional and national shows have fallen in recent years, due to industry consolidation. Fewer cable operators attend conventions, and most sales agreements are struck year-round, outside of the exhibit halls, many executives say.

Several programmers pulled out of last year's Western Show, the industry's other major convention. Showtime Networks Inc., Playboy Entertainment Group Inc. and Starz Encore skipped last year's Western Show, and Home Box Office and In Demand L.L.C. have said they won't attend this year's Western Show.

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