CHICAGO — The Independent Show is really two shows in one for small cable operators — an opportunity to meet, reconnect and share ideas with other small operators from around the country, and an opportunity to bone up on regulatory issues and trends with the biggest small operator lobbying group in the country, ACA Connects. ACA Connects CEO Matt Polka spoke with Multichannel News about what attendees should expect to see and what sessions could be of particular interest. An edited transcript follows.
MCN: Going into the show, what should small operators be expecting from ACA?
Matt Polka: There is a lot that we’ve been working on together with our friends at NCTC to make this show stellar and to stand out in our industry, which I think it does, now that there are basically fewer shows. It puts a lot more focus on our Independent Show and our members and what they are doing, which was ironically the goal when we introduced The Independent Show 14 years ago in Chicago.
In terms of the show itself, we expect this to be one of our largest ever for a couple of reasons. There are fewer shows, so you’re getting more participation from operator members, as well as vendor companies that want to come out to support it. The second reason is we’re in the middle of the country in Chicago, where if you draw a 400- to 500-mile circle around Chicago, you can draw a lot of people in who can drive. As we saw a couple of years ago in Indianapolis, a show like this in the breadbasket of the country helps to bring in members.
“Ignite” is a really good term for our theme. Fourteen years ago, it was “Winds of Change,” and that was appropriate then as we were introducing a brand-new show. Now, Ignite is just as appropriate, because so many things are hot, they’re moving, they’re important right now, whether it’s business, technology, policy, operations, over-the-top, 5G spectrum issues. [There is] a lot more that our members are involved in, day to day, than they ever were back in 2006.
MCN: Tell us about some of the speakers you’ve brought in. I see that former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer is scheduled for the Tuesday keynote.
MP: Ari Fleischer is nationally known, former key staff in the Bush White House, someone who has made his views felt on Twitter and in our industry. And while he speaks from a particular political point of view, the one thing that has always impressed me about Ari, particularly when I follow him on Twitter … throughout everything he says are two important elements that are sorely lacking in Washington today: common sense and fairness.
We’re bringing in another keynote on Wednesday, Bill Conner, the CEO of SonicWall. Bill’s been in cybersecurity posts and technology all of his life, from an association perspective and a business perspective. Beyond that, in addition to his work advising clients, he’s an international expert on the threats that today our nation, our government, our infrastructure, our business face from all across the world. After Bill is done, I think a lot of people are going to run out and start changing their passwords.
I’ve been happy to work with the development of our CEO leadership panel this year, which will be Monday morning after we have our kickoff. Bob Gessner, who is our current chairman at ACA Connects, is going to moderate that, along with his daughter Katherine, who is the president of MCTV; Dave Heimbach, who’s the COO of ShenTel; Todd Schurz, the CEO of Schurz Communications; and then Jeff Shook at Buckeye [Communications], who is the operational head of Buckeye in the Toledo [Ohio] area. This has become kind of a tradition for us, but it’s really great to benchmark from some of our top leaders.
MCN: I see there are sessions on the legal track and on state government issues.
MP: Our SVP of government affairs, Ross Lieberman, and our VP of regulatory affairs, Brian Hurley, have been working closely with Jeff Nourse [NCTC SVP regulatory and legal affairs] on developing this very very strong legal track that will certainly attract practicing lawyers, general counsels and legal staff for our members, as well as other interested parties.
MCN: The Independent Show always struck me as one where the members realized maybe more than most that talking to other people in the industry was good for their business. In this climate, is that more important than ever?
MP: Many people say that our show harkens back to what cable used to be like. It’s always one of the top reasons our members give us in surveys for coming to the event, and that is to be able to have lunch and dinner with another member to network, to ask how they’re handling this problem or that problem, to benchmark with each other. I think that’s one of the coolest things our show provides.