Travel Woes Hit Cable Trade Shows

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Travel constraints in the wake of the Sept 11 terrorist attacks have prompted the cancellation or postponement of a handful of cable-related trade shows.

The attacks caused many companies to suspend business travel, and left some people afraid to fly altogether.

The Mid-America Show, which was to be held Sept. 17 to 20 in Kansas City, Mo., was cancelled at the last minute when "an avalanche of cancellations" came in from many of the expected 1,200 attendees, according to a recording at association offices.

"We met late Friday [Sept. 14]. The vote was not unanimous," said Rob Marshall of New Media Research, consultant to the Mid-America Cable Telecommunications Association. "The goal of the terrorism is to disrupt the flow of events, so we intended to go forward. It takes a while for it to come home to roost."

Marshall said the Mid-America association, which serves cable systems in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, began to hear early on from associate members in Canada, New York and California, indicating they would not be able to come, primarily because of the air travel ban.

After flights resumed, more local members called. Some cable operators said, "I'm at the airport and I have a ticket, but the guy next to me is trying to get home to his family. I'm giving up my seat," Marshall reported.

Still others expressed fear that war would be declared while they were away from their families.

The Mid-America association's coffers will be hard hit. The trade show is a major fund-raiser, and according to Marshall, the group does not have insurance. He declined to discuss financial specifics.

"Our next step will be to put together information on our options. This will be a very difficult time for a lot of reasons," he said. The show "takes a year to plan and pull off. We have no idea how long it takes to recover from cancellation."

The CommVerge Conference and Expo, which was to be held in Santa Clara, Calif., Sept. 19 to 21, was also postponed, according to officials at CommVerge
magazine, which focuses on the convergence of voice, video and data functions. The new date has not been set.

Other organizations stress their events and trade shows will go on, but note that planning and evaluation of the national situation now take equal value.

Late Friday, the backers of the East Coast Cable show, which had been planned for Oct. 23 to 25 in Baltimore, cancelled the meeting "in light of the tragedy in the region." The backers had hoped to continue with the show, drawing operators from New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Washington and Pennsylvania with an offer of a fee-free show, said Wayne O'Dell, president of the Cable Telecommunications Association of Delaware, Maryland and Washington.

Backers had hoped 5,000 operators, vendors and programmers would attend.

The backers stressed the show will continue its plan to merge with the Eastern Show in 2002.

Other October events were also affected. The Association of National Advertisers scheduled for Oct. 10 to 14 in Naples, Fla., has been cancelled. A research conference by Park Associates, Forum 2001: Leveraging Digital Opportunities, originally set for the beginning of the month, was rescheduled to Dec. 12 to 14 at the original location, the Regent Hotel in Las Vegas. That conference is already publicizing an inducement to now reluctant travelers: free consumer research.

Other groups contacted by Multichannel News
indicated they intended to proceed as scheduled, but invoked the new catchword: unless. Unless travel bans are extended, unless there is a major change on the world stage, unless our members say "no."

CTAM's Broadband Opportunity Conference, set for Nov. 6 in Tysons Corner, Va., is still in the planning stages. "We're evaluating the situation, but we're still moving forward" as of Sept. 19, a CTAM spokeswoman said.

The fate of the 17th annual benefit gala of the Women in Cable and Telecommunications on Nov. 8 in Washington is still in doubt. The executive committee met Sept. 20 to look at a number of options, according to a spokesman. The executives will meet again this week in an effort to make a decision.

While many companies curtailed travel, Scientific-Atlanta Inc. went ahead with a planned seminar in Mexico City for local cable system operators last week. The day-long seminar featured a variety of S-A executives discoursing on such topics as headend solutions, advanced broadband networks and cable modems and about specific products and expertise available from the company. Up to 100 participants, primarily executives and engineers from Mexican cable operators attended.

An Adelphia Communications Corp. spokesman said his company would hold its annual managers' conference next month as planned in Buffalo.

Looking farther down the road, operators who had committed to attend the Western Show Nov. 28 to 30 in Anaheim, and send sizable groups to attend corporate meetings in concert with the trade show, are standing by those commitments.

"We are on course to proceed with the leadership conference at the Western Show. We see nothing at this point to deviate from that," AT&T spokesman Rob Stoddard said. AT&T Broadband just lifted a terrorism-related travel ban on its employees. Now, trips are allowed, if they are necessary. That guidance will stay in place in the short term but there should be enough distance between now and the end of November to allow things to normalize, he said. Bill Menezes contributed to this report.