Western Attendance Could Be Down by 30%

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What a difference a year makes: Last year the Western Show was in Los Angeles, and it boasted record attendance of 31,000.

This year, in Anaheim, most programmers will be show-floor no-shows, and cable operators were given price breaks as incentive to attend.

Show planners created a new "participant" category that enticed back some programmers, most recently ABC Cable Networks Group. And even its organizer, California Cable Television Association, will be different — on Wednesday it will officially change its name to the California Cable & Telecommunications Association.

The CCTA reports a "last-minute flurry" of bookings for the show, set for this Tuesday (Nov. 27) through Friday (Nov. 30), but attendance may still be down 30 percent compared to last year — which would put it below 22,000.

Given all the changes, exhibitors said they're "cautiously optimistic" about their ability to meet with decision-makers at the show. The dearth of programmers on the floor might be a good thing for technology companies, they added, because the amount of distracting "white noise" will be cut down.

Also, because the fall-off in exhibitors forced the show to shrink to three halls in the upgraded and expanded Anaheim Convention Center, some companies said they received better floor locations.

"So far, we're pretty booked for meetings with potential clients and the media, and we found it easier to get appointments with both constituencies," said ClearBand LLC vice president Jeffrey Huppertz. His firm markets software that enables video delivery via cable modem.

The 2000 show drew many new, Internet-centered exhibitors, Huppertz added.

"The cable industry didn't understand what they were trying to offer, but they were flashy and distracting," he said.

This year — with many companies enforcing travel restrictions after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — the biggest challenge is tracking down the MSO executives who are attending the event, he said.

"We have undiminished hopes for positive results," added Canal Plus U.S. Technologies vice president of marketing Arthur Orduna.

That said, Orduna has questions about generating new leads and activity based on show traffic. Canal Plus' investment in its 2001 Western Show booth is the company's largest ever, but that was based on the robust attendance for the 2000 show.

"I have sympathy for the CCTA, that's why we haven't backed off," he said. "But I have a CEO looking at me regarding our investment."

Canal Plus will continue to support the show, but by the end of this year the company will evaluate the level of its investment in upcoming shows.

Pioneer Electronics USA cable division director of marketing Dan Ward said he sees this year's Western Show as a return to its roots.

"It's getting back where it started from — a regional technology show," he said. "I enjoyed the flash of programmers myself. But now that that's gone, it will be more focused. It will weed out the people who were only there looking for glitz."

As for future participation, Pioneer is not making decisions based on this year's show. The economic downturn and concerns over terrorism have made for an unusual situation, he said

"We're in a changed world, and this is a changed show," CCTA president Spencer Kaitz said in a prepared statement. "With CableNET and the new CableNET Interactive as centerpieces, the evolution to a broadband exhibit floor is obvious."

The show floor will host 250 technology companies, 100 of which are new to the trade meeting.

The association was able to attract seven cable-operator CEOs, including the new chiefs of AT&T Broadband, Charter Communications Inc. and Time Warner Cable.

The association has made its best effort to create a productive show for attendees, despite the fact the decrease in attendance has left the trade group "in a world of hurt," officials said. The revenue shortfall forced the association to let go seven of its 30 staff members.

"We've made hard choices as well," CCTA vice president C.J. Hirschfield said.

And next year? "It's a different world on so many levels," she said. "My team's been through a lot, and there are tough questions to be asked about the Western Show and our ability to lobby."

The CCTA board will hold a retreat in January to discuss the future.

Most exhibitors don't draw links between booth payments and the association's ability to lobby effectively, but that's where the money goes.

"California is a bellwether state. What gets passed here gets replicated across the U.S.," Hirschfield said.

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