Windy City Rumble

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By the time you read this, many from cable's ranks will already be in Chicago, the venue for this year's National Cable & Telecommunications Association convention.

But there will be fewer of the industry's denizens than usual on hand this week, largely because in this industry, just like every other one in America, the bean counters, and not the strategists or operations people, are calling the shots. Bummer. But look at every economic barometer and there is cause for pause — this has not been a great year for anyone.

But, if what NCTA president Robert Sachs says again holds true — that 25 percent of the registration occurs on site — then this could be the usual mob scene seeking the elusive answer to, "What's the buzz?"

So I'm going to tell you ahead of time what I'm
on the prowl for and who I
want to hear from.

First, I want to check out Sen. Tom Daschle (D.-S.D.) who was just appointed Senate majority leader last week. This will be his first public industry appearance, and the NCTA's timing is exquisite.

You should check him out too. After all, Daschle now has the power to control the Senate floor and will make it difficult for President Bush and the puppet masters who control him, to shove through their agenda.

NCTA officials are not expecting much trouble from Daschle, since there aren't that many regulatory bugaboos on cable's horizon. But there are for things further down the road, like digital must carry. Remember the 1992 Cable Act and which political party backed that baby.

Next, I'm very curious about the lunch that Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau chieftain Joe Ostrow is hosting for his clan out there. He's invited several hundred advertising/media executives from the area to get an earful about the benefits of his medium.

Given that the upfront ad sales market is still as obstructed as Vice President Dick Cheney's arteries were, these ad people hold the weapons that could unclog the present blockage in the marketplace.

I also want to check out what Viacom Inc. president and chief operating officer Mel Karmazin has to say in what will be his first major cable show public appearance as a cable guy, and not a broadcaster.

He was a pretty busy guy last week addressing a packed audience at the Deutsche Bank Alex. Brown Media Conference. He said that Viacom had nothing to fear from a potential combination of DirecTV and News Corp., or of a pairing of DirecTV and EchoStar Communications Corp.

Well, that's all swell for Mel, but going into this National Show, some operators seem to once again be worrying about another "Death Star" at their doorsteps. Check out our Q&A this week with Comcast Corp. president Brian Roberts and you'll read that he is not all that sanguine about this new potential powerhouse.

Clearly the threat from DBS has not gone away. If anything, with the planets aligned the way they presently are, cable could face some even stiffer competition. Roberts told Multichannel News
that when the specter of enhanced competition from DBS first reared its head five years ago, a lot of cable operations sold out.

But a lot stayed the course. They invested in costly rebuilds to provided enhanced services to keep competitors at bay. And that's what this Windy City show is really going to be all about. You're going to see a lot of nitty-gritty, "down-in-the-trenches" feats of execution and success. And if your bean counter kept you home on the ranch, stick with us for full coverage in our daily online products and the upcoming post-show report.

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