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Mass exodus of programmers forces cable show to shift focus

Nov 26, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The 34th Annual Western Show, buffeted by the same forces that have impacted the American landscape in recent months, begins its four-day run transformed and downsized.
Attendance at the show in Anaheim, Calif., Nov. 27 to 30, is expected to be down approximately 35 percent from last year’s record-setting 33,000, according to the California Cable Television Association, the nonprofit state cable organization that puts on the show and customarily derives some 70 percent of its annual revenues from it.
At the beginning of the year, when the CCTA first planned the Western Show, four halls were set aside for exhibitors; now it’s down to three. Exhibit hall square footage will be down to 158,150 square feet from last year’s 317,900. The number of confirmed exhibitors stands at 260 this year, compared with last year’s 400 and 1999’s 392.
This year, the “drop in both exhibitor and attendee income will be dramatic,” said C.J. Hirschfield, VP, industry affairs, CCTA.
“I’ve been talking with former and current exhibitors, and we heard from many of them the same basic story,” she said. “As much as they love the show, given the current economic environment, … they didn’t have the money to mount a show booth this year.”
Adaptability is key
People have always predicted the demise of the Western Show, said Lindsay Gardner, executive VP, affiliate sales and marketing, Fox Cable Networks Group, who attended his first show in 1989. And though the nature of the business he’s done there has changed over the years, business is still done. “It’s true we don’t sign anything anymore at the shows,” he said, but “last year we had lengthy and very substantive meetings with every one of our top distributors.”
Of course, even CCTA itself thinks that the nature of programmer participation will change in the future. “It’s the changing nature of how the industry works. The mature, branded programmers don’t need to necessarily exhibit and show off in the same ways,” CCTA spokesman Paul Fadelli said.
Absent from the exhibition floor this year is a who’s who of programmers and cable networks, including A&E Television Networks, Comedy Central, Discovery Networks, E! Networks, Fox Cable Networks, MTV Networks, Starz Encore Media Group, Telemundo, Turner Broadcasting System and many others.
Generally, the programming exhibitors who are left this year are the smaller companies hoping to make a bigger splash in this year’s smaller pond. The programmer/exhibitors signed up for the floor are C-SPAN, EWTN, FamilyNet, Fashion TV, The Golf Channel, INSP-The Inspiration Network, Inspirational Life Television, NBC Cable Networks (which has the Winter Olympics to tout), The Outdoor Channel, Pax TV and TV5 USA. In the content providers’ place on the exhibit floor will be a host of high-tech manufacturers and distributors, including 97 first-time exhibitors, many of them demonstrating new broadbandrelated products that range from the latest in servers and high-speed cable modems to a system designed to make it possible to cast absentee election ballots from home, via interactive cable TV. Trio, USA’s emerging digital arts network, is one example of another kind of new programming presence at this year’s Western Show.
Is this year’s downsized show an anomaly, caused primarily by the extraordinary circumstances following the attacks of Sept. 11, or is the programmer exhibition-hall pullout simply an acceleration of trends that will continue in years to come as programming deals throughout the industry continue to be made elsewhere than on a convention floor?
“That’s the $64,000 question,” Ms. Hirschfield said. “Do I think we’ll see programmers come back with the same size exhibits they had before? No I don’t. Do I think that they will leave the Western Show because it’s not pertinent to their lives and the business that they do? No, I think they’re going to be at the show, but in a different way.”
“We’re in a changed world, and this is a changed show,” said Spencer Kaitz, CCTA’s president.
“Now we are a broadband exhibition floor,” said Mr. Fadelli. However, the new techno-exhibitors have generally taken smaller booths than the programmers they have supplanted, so the CCTA’s goal still has to be to “keep the content folks and the programmers in our show,” Mr. Fadelli said.
More options
To that end, the CCTA has created a “participant” category for former exhibitors, most of which will have a hotel presence instead of an elaborate and expensive booth on the floor.
“Participants” will pay the CCTA $14,000. An exhibitor, on the other hand, may end up spending as much as $1 million for a major presence on the floor and at the show, including throwing a lavish party that by itself can cost $100,000 or more. But of all that exhibitor spending only approximately $50,000 or less will find its way into the CCTA coffers, according to a CCTA official.
The CCTA gets “considerably more than that,” said one senior official, whose network group will not be exhibiting this year. By not exhibiting but by still having a hotel presence, this group will save approximately $500,000, the official said.
Court TV is one example of a former exhibitor that this year will be present and active-but not as a formal “participant.” “We’re going to be doing everything but exhibit,” said a spokeswoman, pointing to Court TV anchorwoman Catherine Crier’s presence as a panel moderator and to Court TV President Henry Schleiff’s attendance at the show. There will be a Court TV hotel suite, dinners with cable operators and panel presentations, the spokeswoman said.
Thus far, 17 companies, including some that had declined to be on the exhibition floor this year, have signed on as official participants, a status that will allow them to access the Western Show’s floor and its press conference facilities, attend the chairman’s reception, have “preferred” hospitality suites and be listed in the show’s program.
Official Western Show participants include CacheVision, Fox Cable Networks, Game Show Network, Hallmark Channel, HBO, iN Demand, Intel Corp., Lifetime Television, Mixed Signals Technologies, Oxygen Media, PanAmSat Corp., Radio One, Rainbow Media Group, Scripps Networks, TechTV, USA Networks and WorldGate.
Looking ahead
Additionally this year, more than 200 senior executives from multiple system operators, which the CCTA characterizes as VPs and above, will be attending MSO corporate meetings during the show. That’s one reason Mr. Gardner hopes that Fox Cable, which has cut back this year as part of News Corp.-mandated expense cuts, will be back next year as an exhibitor. “I want very much to be back next year because I believe in the show,” he said. “I believe that it’s good business to be a very strong exhibitor at that show.”
CCTA’s lost revenue at the Western Show, from both absent exhibitors and fewer attendees, is likely to result in higher dues for organization members in the future, according to one CCTA official.