In Depth

Upbeat Cable Show ’09 on Tap

Industry’s Role in Economy a Focus

Like most conventions this year, Cable Show ’09, which kicks off Wednesday in Washington, is bracing for a big drop in attendance.

The event’s host, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, expects about a 20% slide from last year’s tally of 12,000 attendees. But those cable networks, operators and suppliers who do make the trek to the Washington Convention Center for the annual three-day industry gathering will be treated to a hefty dose of regulatory sessions, discussions with industry leaders on dealing with the current economic downturn and a 20,000-square-foot exhibit on the future of broadband.

Despite the expected attendance dip, the NCTA is betting the D.C. locale and its proximity to the newly anointed Obama administration will draw some additional attendees.

“We expect many members of Congress, the administration and other policymakers to visit the Cable Show,” said NCTA President-CEO Kyle McSlarrow, who is being honored as TelevisionWeek’s 2009 Cable Executive of the Year. “Our goal is to have them walk away, first, with a better understanding of how important our industry is to our economy and as an engine of investment and innovation and, second, with an appreciation of the significant value proposition we offer consumers for all of our services.”

The Obama administration has been vocal about investing in broadband infrastructure and in growing broadband usage. That dovetails with the cable industry’s goals, Mr. McSlarrow said. “As an industry, cable has already invested over $140 billion to build the most extensive broadband network in America, which is available to 92% of U.S. households,” he said.

That’s why broadband will play a large role at the show. The interactive exhibit “Broadband Nation” will feature urban, suburban and rural landscapes, showing how broadband can be used for education, entertainment and health in each of those areas, explained Brian Dietz, spokesman for NCTA.

Included in the exhibit will be a coffee shop with broadband wireless video and music streaming; a home with smart appliances, advanced interactive TV and home healthcare; a rural school with distance learning and online collaboration; and an entertainment complex with 3-D and 4-D video games and special effects.

Comcast said at the show it also will focus on how it can converge its broadband services with other services, like video and voice to offer Caller ID on the TV screen or computer, for instance.

Scripps Networks’ HGTV will decorate the exhibit, while Discovery Education and Discovery on Demand are among the programmers that will demonstrate how their programming plays on multiple platforms in the exhibit.

Hi-Def Showcase

Also at the show, Discovery will showcase its high-definition portfolio of networks in its booth, said Jennifer Dangar, senior VP of domestic distribution. “With the challenges of today’s economic climate, the show is an important opportunity for the industry to come together and focus on innovation,” she said.

Networks also are coming to D.C. to talk to operators about the providers’ new plans to offer online access to cable programming, said John Lansing, president of Scripps Networks.

“We are very interested in learning more about how we can create a mutually beneficial online video strategy with our cable and satellite partners that will both help to preserve the current business model for linear distribution and build a new value proposition for consumers of online video,” Mr. Lansing said.

Cable networks face their own challenges in this tough year. “Everyone needs to go into the show and figure out how they can demonstrate they have momentum, forward movement and a strategy to grow their audience and increase their revenues,” said Dave Howe, president of Sci Fi Channel. His network is doing that by rebranding as Syfy as it expands its brand globally from 15 countries today to 50 by the end of 2010 and by jointly developing TV shows and online games in partnership with broadband games publisher Trion World Network, he said.

Expect “what’s next” to be the major theme of the show, said Bruce Leichtman, president of Leichtman Research Group. That means what’s next in video competition from telcos and satellite, the maturing broadband business, online video and cable alternatives, the new administration and the financial markets, he said.

General sessions at the show will tackle issues including the role of new media and the economics of a new advertising era, with speakers including Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, Cox President Pat Esser, former FCC Chairman William Kennard, Disney CEO Robert Iger, News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt.

The show’s public policy lineup will include Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.); Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas; Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va.; Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty; Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.; Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C.; Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va.; Federal Communications Commission Interim Chairman Michael Copps; FCC Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Robert McDowell; and staffers from the House and Senate commerce and judiciary committees.