Editorial: Cable show arrives at the crossroads

Nov 26, 2001  •  Post A Comment

With attendance by cable networks shrinking and participation by high-tech companies on the rise, this week’s Western Show in Anaheim, Calif., marks a turning point for the cable industry.
The 34th annual event, sponsored by the California Cable Television Association, is suffering along with the rest of the media industry from the prevailing economic malaise. As if that weren’t bad enough, the convention is in the midst of an identity crisis as market forces transform it from a showcase for cable programming into a broadband expo.
To its credit, the CCTA sees the handwriting on the wall and is doing its best to position the convention for the brave new media environment. “We’re in a changed world, and this is a changed show,” said CCTA President Spencer Kaitz, whose organization has responded to the departure of such established cable networks as A&E, Comedy Central, Discovery, MTV and TBS by embracing a new crop of high-tech manufacturers and distributors, along with the smaller cable programmers who still need distribution.
Some observers have questioned whether the cable industry needs two major shows, the other being the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s spring convention. The question is a valid one now that the cable business has matured to the point where most of the major networks are fully distributed.
But that has been true for years, and it hasn’t kept the industry away from the Western Show until now-until the economic slump and terrorist attacks combined to scare off prospective attendees. The show has in fact been wildly successful, and this year’s event will be a good indication of whether that success can be expected to extend into the future-once economic factors rebound and would-be participants get over their fear of flying.
Attendance will be off this year, as it has been at trade shows in general since Sept. 11. But the Western Show has a valuable role to play, including helping the cable industry’s players find their way to profitability in the digital future. If this year’s convention succeeds in establishing its identity, 2001 will provide an important blueprint for future success-for both the Western Show and the industry as a whole.