Western Show Highlights Over the Years

Dec 1, 2003  •  Post A Comment

After beginning as an informal gathering in 1968, the Western Show relocates to Anaheim, Calif., is professionally managed for the first time and establishes its identity as an industry event.
House Speaker Carl Albert addresses Western Show attendees from Washington; the show is billed as the first demonstration of satellite-delivered programming in the United States.
The potential of fiber optics is a hot topic on the exhibit floor.
Ted Turner mentions during a panel discussion that he’s considering launching a 24-hour cable news service. He starts CNN two years later.
Satellite problems cloud cable’s horizon following the loss of RCA’s Satcom III, which was to have been home to several cable channels. RCA’s Robert Shortal says, “There’s going to be some inconvenience, and there’s the chance that somebody will be shut out, but I don’t think the cable business is going to be set back.”
Bravo, known then as a cultural network, begins providing a limited schedule of programming to cable operators. ABC announces plans to launch its own cultural channel, Alpha (later A&E), in April 1981. Ted Turner warns cable operators to beware. “Two of the three [broadcast] networks are here trying to get you to affiliate with them even though their public stance to the business press is still offensively anti-cable,” he says. “They’re here because they’re beaten.”
Western Show attendance is reported to be 10,550.
World Video Library of Fort Worth, Texas, introduces the Time Machine, a two-way addressable converter and decoder that offers pay-per-view capability of up to 50 channels.
The theme for the 16th annual show is “Blueprint for Progress.” Programming costs, deregulation, must-carry rules and customer retention are top items of discussion at the event. About 200 exhibitors pay an average of $8 per square foot. Registration fee is raised to $225 from $200. Attendance declines to an estimated 8,500 from 9,800 the previous year.
Ted Turner announces the sale of his one-month-old Cable Music Channel to MTV Networks for $1 million. Showtime and Movie Channel announce plans to join HBO in scrambling their satellite signals.
Western Show promoters project the lowest attendance in five years, due to industry cutbacks. A panel on “merger mania” suggests that a handful of companies will control the industry by 1990. Ted Turner tells the opening session that cable needs more advertising so that it can spend more on programming.
With NBC talking about starting its own cable news outlet, President Larry Grossman says there “may well be room” for two cable news networks. Pressed on the issue, Mr. Grossman says NBC’s entry could force the closing of Headline News.
Cable operators worry about the emergence of a new competitor following the formation of the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association. SBCA board member Charles Ergen (now CEO of direct broadcast satellite service EchoStar) predicts that satellite broadcasting will eventually displace cable. Attendance falls to about 7,800.
John Malone, then chairman and CEO of Tele-Communications, the nation’s largest cable operator, first discusses the potential of high-definition television.
Ted Turner tells the opening session he intends to remain head of Turner Broadcasting System despite rumors of his departure. Mr. Turner is in negotiations with NBC to sell 25 percent of TBS for $400 million.
HBO draws crowds to its demonstration of HDTV and issues results of a survey that found people would be willing to pay as much as $1,000 for a high-definition television set.
The threat of competition from telephone companies is a hot topic as the Western Show refocuses on more regional issues. TBS entertainment chief Gerry Hogan tells a panel that the cable industry should discourage broadcast networks from getting into cable programming, calling ABC’s ESPN and NBC’s CNBC “Trojan horses in our camp.” CNBC announces it has signed carriage deals with seven of the top 10 cable operators.
Cablevision Systems Corp. chief Chuck Dolan, left, predicts basic cable will become obsolete within 10 years and that customers will assemble their own a la carte packages. Show attendance approaches 9,700.
Discovery Channel announces it has acquired exclusive U.S. rights to BBC programming. CNN is awarded a Golden ACE Award for its coverage of upheaval in China.
John Malone predicts that broadcast network viewing will fall to 42 percent by 1995. (It doesn’t.)
The Western Show formally becomes the Western Cable Television Conference and Exposition. Organizers predict 10,000 attendees from 20 countries. Time Warner, Cablevision Systems and NBC announce the proposed launch of Courtroom Television Network (now Court TV).
Optimism abounds. BET Chairman Bob Johnson tells a panel his company will become the “black media conglomerate of the 1990s.” John Sie, chairman of Encore, predicts his company will launch additional channels within months, and Family Channel President Tim Robertson says the cable advertising marketing appears “bullish.” All three talk of proposed international expansion. Consumer activist Gene Kimmelman tells a panel that broadcasters have no idea “where they are going [or] what their role is in the changing media world.”
As the Western Show celebrates its 25th anniversary, John Malone talks about prospects for a 500-channel TV universe. TCI announces it will begin digital compression of cable signals in 1994, a move the company says will lead to new programming opportunities in multiplexing high-definition TV, niche channels and new interactive services. National Cable Television Association chief Jim Mooney addresses the opening session on implications of the 1992 Cable Act.
Microsoft exhibits for the first time at any cable trade show. The California Cable Television Association says it will move the Western Show to San Diego on a rotating basis starting in 1996. The Learning Channel announces a new commercial-free program block, “Ready, Set, Learn!”
With a show theme of “Definitely Not Business as Usual,” attendance soars to 13,000, driven in part by participation by telephone company executives. TCI chief John Malone tells an audience: “My guess is that no cable company, long-term, will find itself without some strategic tie to a telephone-based, communications-based company.” Ray Smith, chairman and CEO of Bell Atlantic-which is negotiating to buy TCI for $33 billion-delivers the opening keynote. Within weeks, the merger talks collapse.
A slew of new network launches creates floor buzz. New entries include The Game Show Network, Home & Garden Television, History Channel, BET on Jazz and The Golf Channel. Western Show attendance reaches 18,000 amid industry optimism and the ongoing convergence of the television, telephone and computer industries.
The show takes on a more technical focus, with more exhibits focusing on cable’s “fat pipe” that can deliver services beyond traditional video. This year’s highlight reel includes an opening-session trade of barbs by Ted Turner and former Fox Television chief Barry Diller. Mr. Turner says of Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch’s plans to start a 24-hour news network to compete with CNN: “I am looking forward to squishing Rupert Murdoch like a bug.”
John Malone, right, urges the cable industry to start paying attention to real earnings rather than cash flow, and to take steps to reduce its growing debt. His comments set the stage for a downbeat Western Show, as attendees worry about new satellite competition and beaten-down cable stocks. Ted Turner and then-Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin flip the switch on CNN/SI, a cable sports news network.
A rebound in cable stock values and the collapse of Rupert Murdoch’s so-called “DeathStar” satellite service lead to renewed optimism. John Malone announces TCI’s intention to invest up to $4.5 billion on new advanced digital
set-top boxes. Mark Sonnenberg, president of FX, says cable operators have awakened from their fear of satellite competitors and “have given them a kick in the butt.” A discussion of industry consolidation leads to a prescient comment from Mr. Turner on the prospects of future mega-deals: “GE could buy Time Warner,” he said. (GE didn’t, but four years later, AOL did.)
Convention-goers get a sneak peek at Fox Family Channel from Saban Entertainment, and Nickelodeon says it will launch four new kids networks over the next two years.
Attendance tops 30,000, placing the Western Show on par with the NCTA National Show. Consumer electronics vendors such as Circuit City, Best Buy and Radio Shack join the list of exhibitors. E! Entertainment Network throws a bash for departing President Lee Masters, while Lifetime chief Doug McCormick-also on his way out-keeps a low profile. Leo Hindery, then president and chief operating officer of TCI, projects that in five years “50 [percent] or 60 percent of my revenue stream will come from products and services that I don’t even offer today.” Neither Mr. Hindery’s association with the company nor TCI survives the prediction.
The 32nd annual Western Show moves to Los Angeles and draws 31,208 attendees. Ted Turner, who 12 years earlier was trying to sell a portion of his company to NBC, tells a panel he might just buy NBC outright. (Mr. Turner by then was vice chairman of Time Warner.) Technology is again the talk of the exhibit floor, with vendors such as WebTV, Intertainer and OpenTV demonstrating new interactive services. “The real world has moved very rapidly towards us,” says CableLabs President Richard Green. Leo Hindery cries woe over the threat of “giant MSOs with disparate agendas. Cable’s summer of love is over, and that’s sad,” he quips.
Technology and interactive services again dominate the Western Show, leading Yankee Group analyst Mike Goodman to say the event has “gone beyond cable. It’s now computers, software and hardware vendors. It’s a real testament to convergence.” Of the more than 400 exhibitors, more than 90 percent hawk some form of technology or new media. New exhibitors include digital video recorder vendors ReplayTV and TiVo. Storm clouds are on the horizon, however, as veteran exhibitors Showtime and Encore Media choose not to attend. It’s also the last year for HBO’s participation. Attendance peaks at 33,000, the show’s highest number ever.
An editorial in Electronic Media postulates that the Western Show stands at a crossroads. The aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, economic malaise, consolidation and the collapse of technology stocks threaten its future. Longtime exhibitors A&E, Comedy Central, Discovery, MTV and TBS eschew the show. Both attendance and exhibit space decline by 50 percent in a single year.
Sporting a theme of “BroadbandPlus,” the show makes a last stab at survival. The recently announced merger of Comcast and AT&T Broadband makes Comcast chief Brian Roberts the star of the show. He urges attendees to be wary of the threat of broadband competition. “The faster this industry moves and the more unified this industry moves … the more successful we will likely be,” he says. Attendance at the show falls below 10,000.
Citing weak attendance, consolidation and cost cutting, the California Cable & Telecommunications Association announces in August that this year’s Western Show, scheduled for Dec. 2 to 5, will be the last.