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Marianne Paskowski

‘R’ Word Mostly on Mute at CTAM Summit

November 12, 2008 11:47 AM

Speakers at the CTAM Summit in Boston largely ignored the elephant in the room, the “R” word, as they put one foot in front of the other, discussing present and future trends.

And why not? Was there anyone in attendance who didn’t know how deeply entrenched this recession has become?

CTAM Summit 2008

Day One CTAM Summit 2008

But in the closing session Tuesday, Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen said that while there is a perception that cable is recession-proof, in fact it’s actually more recession-resistant. She said cable does better than most businesses because of its strong cash flow and ability to recover more quickly during recessions, but she didn’t expect a recovery for cable until the first quarter of 2010.

Clearly cable is no General Motors, begging at the Federal Treasury window, but it is challenged. A marketing exec at a cable network said cable will get hit hardest in ad sales, as the industry is already experiencing overall weakness in the scatter market. She also told me her marketing budget is already tapped out for the year.

CTAM Summit 2008

Trade Show Char Beales declared the year's gathering a "victory."

CTAM Summit attendance was high, about 2,222, down just slightly from last year’s event, said CTAM President Char Beales, who declared the event a “huge victory in this environment.”

And what an environment it is. One multisystem operator’s marketing head told me her company has a “recession plan” at hand, as the company is experiencing no growth from new subscribers.

Perhaps more sobering is the ongoing reduction in headcount at both cable distribution and programming companies, with Cox Cable trimming its workforce by 2%.

One executive search firm executive told me that by year’s end, cable could see a staggering 40% total loss in jobs, counting earlier streamlining moves made during the past several years, first by the programmers and later by the MSOs, with more whacking to come by Q4.


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Comments (14)

Eric Gronwaldt:

By referencing the elephant in the room and the “R” word, I thought you talking about “Republicans”, wait, subconsciously you probably were, since the present administration led us to the edge, then walked away after pushing the country off the cliff. Let’s hope we enjoy 8 years of peace and prosperity, as we did during the last democratic administration.

As for the fatted cow we call cable, with more revenue streams than the IRS, instead of crying, how about dumping the bottom 25% of cable networks (in viewership) and let that programming scamper over to the internet where it can reach the fractured audience for pennies on the dollar. This just might keep them from shoving a monthly cable increase down my throat because ten people in my DMA want to watch a 9th ESPN network or Hanna Montana in Spanish. And no, I don't want to buy your damn phone service, I'm happy with my Baby Bell that doesn't go out when my cable goes black.

Marianne Paskowski:

God, I love being psycho-analyzed. Never thought of the Republicans at all, they lost, remember?

Also love your idea, to a point, about dumping those low-rated niche channels that five people watch and we all pay for.

Maybe another way to skin that cat get is to relegate those losers to the VOD ghetto, and yes, that's what I largely think about VOD. BTW, so refreshing to hear a guy say he doesn't want nine channels of ESPN>

I don't triple play either. When you live on a spit of sand, you want a real land-line phone and not something that goes out when the power does.

Eric, thanks for the laugh, we all need one again, today. DOW down another 400 points as the GOP changes its plans on what to do with the TARP bailout. Our lame-duck government sure made and continues to just keep stepping in it,as dog owners like to say, m

Jeff Mulligan:


No doubt everyone at CTAM knows about the recession. They go to conferences like CTAM to learn from industry leaders what to do about it. By "muting the R word," as you put it, CTAM clearly did not serve its mission. Char Beales thinks she can wish away the looming cable industry contraction?


Raptor Ron:

Come on, already. What are these self-serving industry "conferences" all about in the first place? Squeezing revenue from show exhibitors, and cheerleading the industry leaders--a bunch of clueless folk this year, apparently. Cable industry managers got more of the same-old same-old. Like telling homeowners risking foreclosure that their salvation lies in replacing the drapes.

Raptor Ron

Marianne Paskowski:

I, too, was disappointed that CTAM did not address the "R" word in their sessions that are designed to be tutorial, learning experiences.

But I think I have an answer: CTAM doesn't know how to handle business conditions in near depression. Cable, for now, is not there, as more people stay at home, bla, bla, bla.

One of the most interesting comments I heard at CTAM was that people who buy the triple play, say that high speed access to the Internet would be the last thing they would give up.

Thanks for your post, m

Marianne Paskowski:


Yeah, this conference could have been better. CTAM gave speakers a choice to address the recession/depression, and many of those speakers just chose not to go there.

So you have to ask why, and although I usually hate all of your comments, CTAM 08 was a cheer leading session, with nothing to really cheer about.

I wish I knew more about cable's recession plans, m

David Cohen:

Cable will get hit by subscribers dropping services. Few people will cancel altogether, but I can see a lot of people dropping HBO, or their cable operator-supplied DVR, or extra boxes. With all of the newly unemployed people out there (myself sadly included), every dollar counts.

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi David,

Hang in there, you are so ready for your next job, with your awesome skill sets.

I agree with you that people will drop premiums, but not necessarily DVR and extra boxes.

I don't think, however, the triple play is recession proof. All a subscriber has to do is call his cable op, relating a deal about a better offer, from say FiOS, and the discounts begin. What fun.

Thanks for chiming in, and let me tell you all: Dave is one of my best hires when I was at Multichannel News.He knows online better than most.


David Cohen:

You're probably right about DVRs, now that I think of it.

Marianne Paskowski:

Knew you would come to your senses and agree with me:)

Meanwhile, about those layoffs I mentioned in my post, QVC is laying off 700 people or 6 percent of its workforce.



Yo, Blondie --

Maybe CTAM is on to something, and Barack Obama ought to listen to Char Beales. Don't use the "R" word. None of us should. Recession fears become self-fulfilling prophecies, so if we all stop bleating like helpless sheep and just act as if the economy is robust and we should all spend money and invest, we'd lick the recession.

Cruisin not bruisin

Marianne Paskowski:


Sure, tell that to the 700 employees who got pink slips at QVC.

Thanks for your post, but I know what I know, m

Joe Guerin:

Considering that CTAM's attendance was down only "slightly," the show appears to have been a success--for now. Slap the big "R" word all over the idea of business travel and trade shows in this recession. Unless shows and conferences provide "must know" essentials you can't get elsewhere, they'll lose their relevance. In turn, reduced attendance will vitiate their networking value, further eroding their appeal in this time of tight budgets, horrendous airline service, and harried 60-hour week management jobs.


Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Joe,
I found my face time invaluable and I thank TV Week for recognizing the need for that valuable tool to reconnect.Many good touch points at CTAM, for me.

Thanks for your post, m

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