Turner, Fox Scrap Western Booths

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The Western Show took another body blow last week when two major programmers — Turner Broadcasting System Inc. and Fox Cable Networks Group — became the latest companies to drop out as exhibitors.

But the show will go on, despite the mass exodus by programmers, officials insist.

Turner — whose stable includes Turner Network Television, TBS Superstation, Cable News Network, Cartoon Network, Turner Classic Movies, Turner South and Boomerang — said there were several factors in its decision to pull out. Those included the sagging economy and ad market and the exit of several other large programmers.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which saw the company allocate more resources to CNN, also played a role, said Turner spokesman Jim Weiss.

"It's a combination of everything," he said. "It doesn't make a lot of fiscal sense to spend a lot of money bringing everyone and our beautiful booth down there."

Fox Cable — which includes such networks as FX, Fox Movie Channel, Fox Sports Net, National Geographic Channel and Fox Sports World — was forced to cancel because of recent budget cuts mandated by parent News Corp., according to executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing Lindsay Gardner.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks — with companies tightening their belts and people afraid to fly — two cable industry shows have already been cancelled: the Mid-America Show in Kansas City, Mo., and the East Coast Cable Show in Baltimore. But the Western Show won't share that fate, according to the California Cable Television Association.

"The show is going to happen," CCTA spokesman Paul Fadelli said last Friday. "The industry needs time to get together ... and take a tally of this year. We're disappointed by Fox and Turner, obviously. But there is a technology bent to this show, although content will still always be a theme of the Western Show."

CTAM SHOW STILL ON

Last week, officials said that the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing Broadband Opportunity Conference and the Women in Cable & Telecommunications' gala dinner would also both go forward in November. But WICT canceled its Leadership Summit.

Fox Cable and Turner join a host of programmers that won't be exhibiting in Anaheim, Calif., including MTV Networks, USA Network, A&E Television Networks, Discovery Networks U.S., Scripps Networks, Lifetime Television, Home Box Office, E! Entertainment Television, Telemundo, Black Entertainment Television, Comedy Central, Fox Family Channel, Starz Encore Media Group LLC, Oxygen Media, Game Show Network and Playboy TV Networks.

A spokeswoman for Rainbow Media Holdings Inc. said it would exhibit from a much smaller booth. Officials at ABC Cable Networks Group, on the list as an exhibitor, couldn't be reached for comment on whether there had been any change in its plans now that Turner and Fox Cable have opted out.

Last Monday, the CCTA posted a notice on its Web site saying the Western Show would go on as scheduled from Nov. 27 to 30.

"Recent events have understandably raised questions about scheduled shows and events," CCTA president Spencer Kaitz said in a statement. "I want to assure all exhibitors, attendees and inquiring media that the Western Show 2001 will, in fact, occur as planned. This year, in this time of economic uncertainty, it will be an especially important destination."

The six MSOs that took the CCTA's offer of free rooms and discounted dues in exchange for the top officials' attendance were still on board, according to Fadelli.

"They are absolutely locked in," he said.

Pre-registration numbers are just 100 shy of last year's, he added, with 93 new exhibitors.

Since the terrorist assaults, the value of media stocks — including those of News Corp. and Turner parent AOL Time Warner Inc.— has slid along with the rest of Wall Street. Last week, News Corp.'s Fox News Channel postponed a fifth anniversary party it had planned in Manhattan, citing "our recent national tragedy and the challenges facing us all."

IT'S ABOUT MONEY

Fox Cable's decision had nothing to do with a lack of enthusiasm for the show, Gardner said.

"This is strictly about money," he said. "I believe in the show, and I expect in better times we will be back."

Gardner said last week he received a corporate directive to trim his budget, and participation in the Western Show was a discretionary item. As it stands, he estimated Fox Cable would forfeit at least $200,000 it has paid out in fees for booth space.

"We are standing behind our commitment" to those sums, Gardner said.

But Fox Cable will save from $400,000 to $500,000 by not actually erecting and manning a booth. The programmer will still send staff to the show and conduct some sponsorships.

Weiss said he did not know how much of the nonrefundable deposit CCTA collects from exhibitors Turner had lost.

"You subtract that from the money we're saving, and we're well ahead," he added.

Weiss added Turner will send some executives to the convention, as will Fox Cable. Turner may hold meetings in hotel suites.

WATCH NOV. 5 WEEK

The week of Nov. 5 is turning out to be a mini-Kaitz Week for the cable industry, with Washington becoming a venue for some meetings and events that were canceled in Manhattan because of the attack on the World Trade Center.

"We're all trying to work together and be efficient," said CTAM president Char Beales. "And Washington is a place you can come to on the train."

CTAM will forge ahead with its broadband conference in Tysons Corner, Va., from Nov. 6 to Nov. 8. Last week, it added two new keynote speakers to its roster: Cablevision Systems Corp. chairman Charles Dolan and Time Warner Cable Ventures chairman and CEO Christopher Bogart.

CTAM expects about 450 attendees for the conference. That's close to the event's attendance level from two years ago, when the confab was held one day before the Western Show in Los Angeles, according to Beales.

CTAM's leadership felt that the conference should proceed, despite the events of the past few weeks.

"Our membership thinks broadband is so important," Beales said.

CTAM has also extended the deadline for its early-bird registration discount, pushing it back to Oct. 5 from Sept. 21.

WICT canceled its Women's Leadership Summit, which was slated for Nov. 7 to Nov. 9 in Washington. But WICT — citing President Bush's mandate not to let terrorism restrict everyone's lives — will hold its 17th Annual Benefit Gala, honoring Lifetime Television president Carole Black, on Nov. 8 at the Washington Hilton & Towers.

A WICT spokesman said the organization wants to concentrate on the gala, and the cancellation of the summit will free up some hotel rooms for gala attendees.

"We're glad WICT did due diligence on this," said Lifetime executive vice president of public affairs Meredith Wagner, noting that the trade group consulted many industry executives before deciding to go ahead with its dinner.

Lifetime will use the event as an opportunity to salute the rescuers and victims of the attack, she said.

In addition to the CTAM and WICT events in Washington, the National Cable Television Association has scheduled several committee meetings the week of Nov. 5. The Kaitz Foundation is also trying to schedule an executive board meeting that week in the capital, too. And Cable Positive will hold its honorary chair and board meeting Nov. 9 in Washington.

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