The National Show: The Abramoff Effect

While walking the floor of the Georgia World Congress Center at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association’s National Show last week, we couldn’t help but wonder, Where are all the members of Congress?

Call it the Jack Abramoff Effect. It seems the lingering odor of impropriety emanating from the scandal-engulfed lobbyist has put a damper on Congressional junketeering.

Typically, the National Show hosts a dozen federal legislators, as well as Congressional staff, with the NCTA often footing the bill on registration fees and many travel expenses. (The average tab: $3,000.)

According to an analysis of Congressional disclosure statements by Web site Political Moneyline, frequent flyers on Air Cable include Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.). (That’s three times for Stevens and twice for Sensenbrenner—and his wife—since 2000.)

But with all the post-Abramoff scrutiny of that grey zone where lobbying flirts with vote-buying, the cable association decided to close its checkbook this year. NCTA President/CEO Kyle McSlarrow, acknowledging the specter of Abramoff, said the association didn’t even bother to invite the usual high rollers, so as not to put them in the awkward position of having to decline.

We did spot two of these suddenly rare birds: Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.). The Georgia delegation was notified, McSlarrow says; they came on their own dime.

So did FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, though the commission presumably learned its lesson back in 2003, when a Center for Public Integrity study tallied up the $2.8 million worth of industry-paid junkets that commissioners and staff took during the previous eight years.

Check, please.

Sinners, Saints & Swag

In perhaps the best illustration of what an à la carte future might look like, the floor plan at the National Show put the Gospel Music Channel’s booth cheek to, er, cheek with Hustler TV’s.

It’s hard to tell which booth operators were more uncomfortable with their location. When GMC sent a gospel choir marching around the floor, the angelic singers sang a lyric about sin and salvation just as they came upon the adult network’s scantily clad booth bunnies.

One Hustler TV salesman jokingly claimed the singers for Hustler honcho Larry Flynt: “It’s the Hustler Gospel Choir.”

When Flash! bumped into NCTA chief McSlarrow again, we asked him which booths he liked best.

“The ones with the best chum,” said the fishing enthusiast.

McSlarrow took the bait at the MTV Networks table, snagging both seasons of Chappelle’s Show on DVD. An avid soccer player, he also picked up a ball from GolTV.

But exhibitors clearly save the best tchotchkes for the actual cable-system executives. Fox News handed out some high-quality bright-red gym bags.

Sales reps for Ditch Witch’s trench-digging gear, meanwhile, had to settle for cookies and brownies from Scripps NetworksFood Network.

Promotional Stream

You’d think the last thing a network wants is to see its brand identity in the toilet. Not so for MavTV.

In perhaps the oddest marketing stunt at the National Show, the startup network that bills itself as “TV created by men for men” placed promotional urinal pucks (ladies, don’t ask) in the urinals of all the men’s rooms at the convention center.

As if that weren’t enough, whenever a man relieved himself, a tinkle-triggered device would let out a mocking laugh, setting up the joke in the slogan “Watch MavTV, a man-sized network.”

What looked to be an example of guerilla marketing, however, was anything but. The network—formed by former Showtime executives—approached the NCTA with the idea several weeks ago and secured approval.

Calculating a price wasn’t simple. The association has established prices for many promotional perks: suites, signage on the floor, sponsorship of specific sessions and parties.

But how much do you have to pay to have your brand urinated on? The association’s price: $5,000.

Needless to say, this was one tchotchke we declined to bring home.