Through The Wire: Amidst the Big Boys At Sun Valley Fest


"What an audience!" Comcast treasurer JohnAlchin exclaimed after his boss, president Brian Roberts, led off last Friday'spresentations at the Allen & Co. media fest in Sun Valley, Idaho. Gazing out at BillGates, Warren Buffet and the Michael Armstrong-John Malone tandem is enough to make"even someone who's not intimidated by anything slightly intimidated." ButRoberts, a biased Alchin reports, "did a great job," demonstrating new serviceslike on-demand movies and @Home,which will generate the free cash that, coincidentally, got Comcast and other operatorstouted in a piece in TheWall Street Journal last Friday. Presenting atAllen on the same day as a "Heard on the Street" mention -- "It reallydoesn't get much better than this," says Alchin.

Talk about your unlikely bestsellers: The Cable Telecommunications Association(CATA) published a simple brochure a few months ago, explaining how thecable-television industry is regulated. The intended audience was nonindustry typeslike the press, local franchise authorities, politicians and customers. VP of publicrelations Ann Cowan said CATA printed 5,000 copies and wondered if it would be able to getrid of them -- for free. Well! Orders poured in, ranging from one copy to 10,000 -- perrequest. It seems that many MSOs wanted them for internal consumption, and CATA has sentout 75,000 brochures to date. CATA says it will print 10,000 more, but it will startcharging 50 cents apiece for them.

No, it wasn't a President Clinton redux atTCI''s National Digital Television Center last Wednesday, nor was it the sitefor a secret celebrity wedding. At around noon, helicopters were spotted circling abovethe large facility in Littleton, Colo., just as they did about a year ago, when thepresident and his entourage showed up at the NDTC during the "Summit of theEight" event in Denver. An NDTC administrator ruefully admitted to The Wire -- and,separately, to TCI's beefed-up security team -- that there was no great dramaunfolding at the center. "We just needed new, aerial photographs of thefacility," the NDTC staffer said.

DirecTvInc. has done what no cable operator has been able to do -- it'sactually influenced the creative development of a major theatrical pay-per-view movierelease ... sort of. As part of an exclusive PPV-marketing sweepstakes between DirecTvand Warner Bros., the satellite service was able to place a subscriber inWarner's upcoming film, Lethal Weapon 4.The subscriber, Kelly McKnightof Knob Noster, Mo., appears as a photographer chasing down the film's star, MelGibson.

Mile-high anxiety... Jerry Machovina, executive VPof ad sales at TCI Media Services,and Pat Esser, VP of ad sales at Cox Communications, captained rival teams in a July 12Nickelodeon GameLab competition -- a nighttime event during the CAB'sLocal Cable Sales Management Conference in Denver. Although getting slimed --a Nick specialty -- is one of the outcomes of this zany competition, Machovina promisedbefore the competition (which occurred after press time), "We won't be totallyembarrassed" -- quickly adding that in any case, his team would prove victorious.

By R. Thomas Umstead, from bureau reports.