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The Cable Show Opens Up to Outsiders & Rivals

The typically clubby cable industry will let execs from Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) and Verizon Wireless share the stage and shake things up a bit when The Cable Show kicks off next week in Boston.

And that's sort of an unusual move for the cable guys. If you've attended a cable trade show in years past, you had a good sense of who you were going to see before you even glanced at the program.

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ)'s been a cable competitor thanks to FiOS, but Verizon Wireless is rapidly becoming cable's newest best friend, thanks to new deals that will give the mobile carrier some valuable spectrum licenses and allow it and its cable partner to bundle each other's services. You can bet that the new partnership will be a featured topic when Verizon Wireless President and CEO Dan Mead speaks on a panel at the general session on Tuesday morning. (See Verizon Wireless: Cable’s New BFF.)

Expect the temperature to heat up a couple of notches when Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos speaks at Wednesday's general session. Netflix, recall, has been calling out Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s Xfinity TV app for the Xbox 360, complaining that the operator's policy for the app, which is exempt from Comcast's monthly bandwidth cap, violates network neutrality rules and is unfair to over-the-top video services. Expect plenty of push-back from the cable side, but Comcast CTO Tony Werner has already responded to allegations that the MSO is giving priority status to Xfinity TV streams, holding that the new, managed IP service should be considered analogous to Comcast's traditional QAM-based video offerings. (See Comcast Denies It's Prioritizing Xbox Video and Netflix Cranks Up the Net Neutrality Heat .)

National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) SVP of Industry Affairs Barbara York says she expects some tough questions to be asked, but NCTA VP of Communications Brian Dietz thinks the industry should also get some credit for some of these new efforts. "We're seeing a lot of experimentation," he says. "That's a good thing."

The show is also expected to host a big government crowd this year. York says close to 50 state legislators are planning to attend the conference in Boston, along with Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and representatives from both the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission . Of that group, expect FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to hit on some of cable's hottest regulatory issues, including network neutrality and the ongoing retransmission battles between pay-TV providers and programmers, when he's interviewed on Tuesday morning.

Technology and attracting the younger set
Cable will try to show its innovative side at the annual conference as well. For example, the NCTA is showcasing new cable products and services at Imagination Park, which will feature a Start-Up Alley that highlights local Boston start-ups, and an "App Pond" to show off new apps on display for tablets, smartphones and other connected devices.

The Cable Show is also catering to students this year with the Imagine App Challenge. In partnership with the Application Developers Alliance, the NCTA is hosting a 48-hour student developer competition. Described as a "hackathon-style" event, the event will challenge students to build the best mobile broadband app. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top three teams.

And the show will also feature a debate between Harvard University and University of Columbia students on the topic of whether cable is doing enough to attract Millennials, a cohort defined roughly as anyone born after 1981 and before the year 2000. The big question is whether cable can keep this younger audience from the cutting the cord.

The NCTA expects about 12,000 attendees at this year's show, roughly the size of last year's confab in Chicago.

— Mari Silbey, Special to Light Reading Cable



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