Cable Business Services

A Cable Show By Any Other Name?

CHICAGO -- INTX -- With talk of further industry consolidation very much in the air, cable leaders will open their signature Cable Show here Tuesday with a new name, look, feel and, they hope, energy.

Known as INTX, which stands for Internet & Television Expo, the show will feature the usual mix: exhibits by cable tech vendors, programmers and operators; educational, marketing and tech panels; and keynote addresses and stage appearances by such industry luminaries as National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) President & CEO Michael Powell, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) Chairman & CEO Brian Roberts, A&E Networks President & CEO Nancy Dubuc, Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) Chairman & CEO Rob Marcus, Charter Communications Inc. President & CEO Tom Rutledge and Cox Communications Inc. President & CEO Patrick Esser.

It will also feature the standard keynote by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler and panels of the other four FCC commissioners, the agency's bureau chiefs and policy advisors.

But that's about where the similarity with previous cable shows will end -- or at least so NCTA officials are hoping. That's because with the rebranding and other changes to the convention, officials are hoping to keep it relevant and vibrant by appealing to what they call the entire "digital media ecosystem," not just the traditional cable industry.

As part of that bold attempt, NCTA executives have been actively recruiting telco, cable, online video and other companies from rival industries to exhibit at the show and participate in its panel sessions. In particular, they have been seeking to entice Internet players to play a role in the show by transforming it into a cooler event with more tech buzz, including a several-day hackathon event. (See Cable Show Drops the Cable.)

"This was a very purposeful move to invite in others with possibly divergent views of the industry's future," said Mark Bell, VP of industry affairs for NCTA. "We've been making a conscious effort over the last few years to invite in others but we wanted to formalize it."

NCTA executives have also overhauled the traditional grid pattern of mostly unrelated booths on the show floor. Instead of sticking with the old design they have turned the floor into a coordinated series of product and tech "showcases" and "marketplaces," similar to the "tech zone" approach that the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) takes with its huge Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas each January.

"We used to take the mall approach," Bell said. Now, he explained, the show is going more towards "cityscapes" with "boulevards" and "plazas," rather than side streets off a main aisle.

In other format and style changes, NCTA officials have moved the show to the new McCormick Place West convention center and reduced the size of the show floor to bring the hundreds of exhibits closer together and increase its intimacy. They have also trimmed the number of educational and tech panels and put more of them on the show floor to keep attendees there.

The idea was "let's do a few of the [panels] but let's knock them out," Bell said. "And let's do more on the floor." In addition, INTX will host happy hour cocktail receptions in the exhibit hall on both Tuesday and Wednesday evenings to entice attendees to keep floor traffic up.

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With these changes and others, NCTA officials are striving to stabilize show attendance, which has dropped precipitously from cable's heyday in the 1990s when the annual spring event drew crowds of 30,000 people or more, no matter where it was held. Fighting attendance declines ever since 9/11 in 2001, the Cable Show attracted about 13,000 attendees when it was last held in Chicago four years ago and slightly more than 10,000 last year when it was held in Los Angeles.

Of course, a key risk to any rebranding is losing one's basic customers. But Bell insists that's not happening with the INTX switch.

"We haven't lost any major companies because of the brand change," he said. "By and large, those that have traditionally come will still be there."

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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