Chicago - In an attempt to reverse the wave of cancellations by high-profile exhibitors, the California Cable Television Association is offering to pay cable operators to send executives to its Western Cable Show.
The Western Show is proposing to cover the expenses of cable operators that could schedule meetings of their senior managers around the annual convention. The pay-to-stay deal could include transportation, hotel, meeting rooms and meals.
The plan addresses the biggest complaint of cable networks and equipment vendors rethinking exhibiting at the show: few operators in sight. The rapid consolidation of the industry means that there are only 10 operators of any size. Further, as those operators amass larger clusters, there are fewer regional managers making decisions and attending the industry's trade shows.
"It's target marketing," said CCTA COO C.J. Hirschfeld. "Why shouldn't we spend our money on the people who are most important to exhibitors?"
Hirschfeld would not say how the association plans to structure payments to operators. But bringing the top 10 executives from the top 10 operators could cost $300,000 or so, about the cost of the rental of a booth by one major exhibitor.
Cancellations for this year's show include Home Box Office, In Demand, Discovery Networks and Starz Encore, which complain that floor space and assembling a booth can run $300,000 to $700,000.
The Western Show is not alone in its troubles. Exhibitors are even withdrawing from the National Show, with Starz Encore Group the highest-profile cancellation. More than a dozen tech companies didn't return to the show this year, but that's in large part because of their own financial problems. The NCTA said exhibit rentals are off about 15% this year.
But cable system executives are few and far between among the 30,000 or so attendees this week. "Our booth is totally empty," complained an executive of one cable network.
"We never cut deals at these shows any more," lamented an executive with Turner Broadcasting System.
And Starz has, in the words of one NCTA official, "crept back" into the show by taking small booth space in the exhibits of four video-on-demand equipment vendors.
Other regional shows that thrived when the industry was geographically Balkanized have faded. For example, the Eastern Cable Show and Atlantic Cable Show are merging, cutting the revenues that various state organizations had been squeezing from that.
At the Western Show, vendors that cancel can find themselves slighted by officials, some charge. Discovery Networks, for example, traditionally has convention hotels print logos for its networks on room keys for the week of the show. But one industry executive said that, since it has cancelled its exhibition space, this year's request for the promotion was rejected by the CCTA.
Also, vendors that want to send sales people to the show could find it tough to get hotel rooms close to the Anaheim Convention Center because CCTA controls bookings at all major nearby hotels for the week of the show next November.
The Western Show generates about $8 million in revenue and a bit less than $5 million profit for the CCTA. That money goes into the association's lobbying efforts.
Industry executives approve the pay-to-stay move. "I applaud them for doing something smart about it rather than sitting back and taking the hit," said one NCTA official.
- John Higgins