Western Show Still Vital to Cable Tech Interests


The Western Show could not come at a better time. Cable television operators need focused and effective trade shows committed to helping them educate their workforce on how to meet the challenges of the evolving marketplace. Innovation is critical at this time for the industry, and it has always been at the heart of the show.

The show has always been at the epicenter of change and success for cable operators. It is no exaggeration to say that most of the industry's new cash flow comes from services that were first displayed at the show.

Today the Western Show — this year's theme is BroadbandPlus — is in the midst of a cycle dominated by technological change. Among all of the innovative programs integrated into the show, none is more important than the California Cable Television Association's partnership with Dick Green and his team at Cable Television Laboratories Inc.

CableLabs Contributions

Over the past 10 years, CableNET has demonstrated the latest in revenue-generating, future-oriented technology. The Western Show presented the first demonstration of digital compression, cable modems, video-on-demand and voice-over-Internet protocol operating on the same network. Every important initiative currently being pursued by CableLabs — including, DOCSIS [Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification], OpenCable and CableHome — has important connections to the Western Show and CableNET.

In an environment where companies are weighing the balance between the analysts' demands to cut back on expenses and the need to spend money to stay competitive, some have questioned the need for multiple trade shows. But trade shows are a reflection of the vitality of the industry. They are as much about what we are as they are about what we will become. In their absence, the critical discourse that makes for innovation will ebb and thereby endanger our competitive edge. In any event, with so much at stake, the industry should not put all of its eggs in one basket.

As important as stock prices and free cash flow are, our competitive edge lies in the ability to deliver services to consumers on a robust network that no other provider currently possesses. Over the next four to five years, we will finish implementing the digital transition in hundreds of communities in California and thousands of communities throughout the nation. We can succeed because we can do what satellite, broadcasters and wireless can't do with their technologies, and what telephone won't do without federal subsidy. But, our success is tied to arming hundreds of general managers, marketing and sales managers and government and public affairs representatives with an understanding of how the new digital environment relates to consumers and the bottom line.

Operators at the highest level are coming to present their vision of the industry at the show. In addition to Comcast Corp's Brian Roberts, other key industry executives scheduled to appear in the general sessions include Charter Communications Inc. president and CEO Carl Vogel; Insight Communications Co. vice chairman and CEO Michael Willner; Mediacom Communications Corp. chairman and CEO Rocco Commisso; and Cablevision Systems Corp. president Tom Rutledge.

A number of top programming leaders also will be there, including Chris Albrecht, chairman and CEO of Home Box Office; Matt Blank, chairman and CEO of Showtime Networks; Josh Sapan, president and CEO of Rainbow Media Holdings; Anne Sweeney, president of ABC Cable Networks Group and Disney Channel Worldwide; and John Sie, founder, chairman and CEO of Starz Encore Group.

In shaping the program, we have put together an advisory committee of the leading forward thinkers in the industry to take advantage of what is unique about the Western Show. Together, we tailored over 20 general and concurrent sessions to provide specific insight into every aspect of cable's evolving digital technology based on the following assumptions:

  • The new competitive environment places even greater emphasis on technology;
  • As operators lose market share to direct-broadcast satellite, cable networks have to be able to stake out the interactive and Internet frontiers;
  • Every technology provider — whether they have done business with operators for four decades or whether they have never done a cable deal — wants to demonstrate the value of its hardware and sell to cable operators;
  • Innovative programming and packaging can help cable operators recoup the huge investment they've made in the broadband infrastructure and stay on the cutting edge;
  • New applications and services have the potential to drive margins only if they are marketed effectively to meet consumers' needs;
  • Members of the media, the international community, analysts and venture capitalists need to see the vast potential that broadband represents; and
  • Elected officials and cable regulators need to see the innovation spawned by deregulation as a hedge against reregulation.

Helping the Industry

Over 220 companies will either exhibit or serve as sponsors at the show with over 50 participating in CableNET. Even in the midst of the current economic challenges, this speaks volumes about the optimistic future of the industry. It also emphasizes our collective experience bringing technology to the operators in a fashion that goes directly to the operators' bottom line.

For over 30 years, the Western Show has helped our industry through good times and bad. The show has come a long way from San Diego's Vacation Village and the ballroom of the Hotel del Coronado in the late 1960s and early 1970s when exhibitors displayed microwave, coax and primitive head-end technologies on tabletops. In those days, the innovative challenge was simply to get something — anything — onto the poles.

CCTA has always used the show as a platform for the public policy goals of the operators. The show played a critical role in laying the groundwork for support from the California Legislature for operator access to utility facilities and rate deregulation — models followed eventually by Congress and necessary antecedents to cable's explosive growth.

The Western Show has come a long way from the high-flying days — and nights — in Anaheim in the 1970s and 1980s when the innovative challenge was to develop a product that would ultimately compete with the broadcasters. Again, the show played its role in the programming revolution. At a time when most operators were still regional and local entrepreneurs, Ted Turner signed his first Cable News Network affiliate agreement with Al Gilliland who owned only one system in San Jose, Calif. Today, cable programming competes with broadcast offerings for ratings and accolades, CNN itself has multiple competitors and Gilliland's San Jose system is the largest California system being acquired by Comcast in the AT&T Broadband merger.

The challenges to cable have never been greater. For the first time in the industry's history, cable operators face a formidable multichannel video competitor in DBS. Company values have been whacked in the contexts of the telecom depression, "dot bomb" and the crisis in corporate ethics. And legislators and regulators appear poised to intervene to address real or manufactured concerns, such as whether to subsidize deployment of broadband networks by the telephone companies, or to dictate the terms of the digital television transition, or to regulate the Internet.

Yet, never have operators been better situated for the long haul than they are today. Many systems are rebuilt. One-way coaxial plant has rapidly given way to two-way fiber networks providing digital cable and broadband Internet services. The success of our programming and the promise of our technology position the industry for great success as the next chapters of the digital revolution unfold.

As competition for video, voice and data markets threatens margins, it is time for the industry to take advantage of its established resources to benefit from technological innovation. Our industry keeps dreaming about the next programming hit or the next cable modem or the next VOD or even the next way to deliver customer service. You will find these at the show.

The Western Show is a unique place to explore the vision and the products that are shaping the industry now and into the future. It is the perfect platform to let every industry executive become informed, and to help widen cable's technological lead.

Please join us in Anaheim Dec. 3 to 6. To learn more about the show or register, please visit www.broadbandplus.org.