When the National Cable & Telecommunications Association adopted “big” as the theme for this month’s annual convention, its intended allusion was to “the Big Easy” (New Orleans’ nickname) and extensive “Cable Cares” philanthropic projects that the industry is offering to the region.
But the term “big” may be better applied to the widespread changes that are reshaping the cable business itself. The venerable Scientific-Atlanta brand is gone, succeeded by “Cisco” two years after the tech giant acquired SFA. Big changes will also surround Motorola, the industry’s largest equipment supplier, which is in the early stages of a corporate break-up. Its set-top box and cable equipment divisions are expected to be a standalone company by this time next year.MOVING ABOUT
Indeed, the NCTA convention itself is on the precipice of vast changes. Starting next year, several events from various cable industry groups will cluster together during spring and autumn mega-gatherings, replacing a spate of standalone conferences and shows. This month’s Cable Show, which already brings advertising and a two-way TV developers’ conference into the fold, is a forerunner of future really big shows.
As for a “big” audience, NCTA expects the turnout to be about 15,000, approximately the same size as last year’s convention in Las Vegas.
The agenda for the industry’s biggest annual gathering, to be held May 18-20 at the Morial Convention Center, focuses deeply on advertising, reflecting the industry’s efforts to expand that revenue stream. DTV, including cable’s role in the upcoming broadcast DTV transition, and switched digital video also top an array of new-tech topics on NCTA’s agenda. This year’s episode also features an influx of security/alarm providers plus a variety of content security tools.
On the technical agenda, new sessions will focus on “infinite content” for SDV plus optical networks, encoding and mobility. NCTA has beefed up its technical examination of “nomadicity” in response to cable companies’ growing activity in mobile, voice, data and video integration.
Cable’s broadband objectives—and the growing reliance on technology from other industries—come into focus at a kick-off panel session featuring Intel Corp. President/CEO Paul Otellini and Panasonic-North America CEO Yoshi Yamada. News Corp. President/CEO Peter Chernin and Comcast Chairman/CEO Brian Roberts will join them in a discussion called “Generation Next” about broadband media’s future.
Other general and plenary events plus more than 40 specialty sessions look at topics encompassing information technology for cable operators, public policy, finance and general management issues.
| Paul Allen (L), one of the founders of Microsoft and chairman of Charter Communications, and Richard Leghorn, a founder of CableLabs, will receive the NCTA Vanguard Awards.|
FCC Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps are on the agenda and Chairman Martin has been invited; Federal Trade Commissioner Jonathan Leibowitz has accepted a return engagement. Other public policy sessions will include a full slate of FCC bureau chiefs plus state and local officials in a town-hall format session dealing with public utility and cable regulatory issues.BOARDING THE ‘CANOE’
Ad-centric sessions include “CAB University,” run in collaboration with the Cable Advertising Bureau. The extensive advertising agenda adds to the growing anticipation about the project code-named “Project Canoe.” The industry’s largest cable operators (Comcast, Time-Warner Cable, Cablevision, Cox Communications, Charter Communications and Bright House Networks) have been working for several months to create this collaborative venture that would let national advertisers buy customized, interactive advertisements on multiple cable systems.
As of early last month, the group was hoping to recruit a chief executive and a preliminary project plan to be unveiled during the NCTA convention. The companies are initially investing about $150 million in the project, which is intended (among other things) to fend off Google’s push into video advertising. Canoe’s objectives are expected to be tied closely to the data available via new set-top boxes that can be used to pinpoint interactive commercials.
Advertising will also be a key component of the first “tru2Way” Developers Conference, successor to the OCAP (“Open Cable Applications Platform”) training session, that runs on Saturday and Sunday, just before the show starts.
During April, NCTA managed an Applications Developers Showcase, enabling prospective tru2way programmers to use interactive development tools without a license temporarily. Winning applications will be shown in New Orleans.
“We’re working hard to make sure we don’t have the same conference as last year,” said Mark Bell, vice president of industry affairs for NCTA. “Our objective is to make sure that we build very broad awareness of the [tru2way] platform and help define the marketplace and business models around them.”CABLENET’S 16TH INSTALLMENT
Altogether about 330 exhibitors—about the same number as last year—will be on hand. Barbara York, senior vice president for industry affairs for NCTA says that the group is split almost equally between program networks and technology companies. For the first time, a Korean Pavilion is being set up to cluster the products of about a half-dozen companies.
A technology centerpiece of the convention is the CableNet pavilion, run by Cable Television Laboratories for the past 16 years.
“CableNet is a real technology showcase in which you can demonstrate to operators and programmers what they can expect over in the next three to five years,” said Mike Schwartz, senior vice president with CableLabs. “CableNet is a place to see cable’s future” with its mix of “advanced TV, high-speed internet” and other services, Schwartz said.
Motorola will show a prototype of its DOCSIS 3.0 device, Open Cable Unidirectional Receivers (OCUR) and prototypes of bi-directional devices, according to Schwartz.
This year 35 companies, 17 of which are first-timers, will show off their newest ideas and prototypes within CableNet.‘DONGLE OR DITCH’
According to Dan Pike, chair of the NCTA committee that assembled the convention’s track of seven technology sessions, the presentations are “looking out a few years for people to plan their capital programs and technical [roadmap].”
Pike, chief technology officer of GCI Cable, said that the technical papers this year encompass a range of future cable engineering issues and devices, “whether it goes in a dongle or in a ditch.” Of about 150 paper abstracts submitted, Pike’s committee picked about 30 presentations, then invited a few other papers on topics that are expected to become vital to cable technology in the near future.
Pike said the sessions on content security were expanded “because that’s of interest to different parties” who recognize “the need for better encryption.” Similarly, a new session on advertising technology reflects the industry’s goal to reach for “gains over things we’ve had before” he said.
“We’ve long wanted to decouple transmission from consumption,” Pike said. “That takes the form of many different arrangements of technology. All of the different data architectures are beginning to… work their way into the industry to enable the individual consumption of information and entertainment.”
NCTA will also hand out its annual Vanguard Awards to industry leaders during the convention. The Science & Technology award will go to Paul Allen, chairman of Charter Communications and of Vulcan Inc., as well as a founder of Microsoft. Allen’s award cites his support of Digeo’s Moxi interface (an interactive DVR device) and his support of the technology platform now known as tru2way.
Richard Leghorn, a veteran New England cable TV operator and a founder of CableLabs, will receive a “Special Vanguard Award for Outstanding Contribution” for his role in the creation of the industry tech consortium. Other recipients include Matthew Blank, chairman and CEO, Showtime Networks Inc. and Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney-ABC Television Group, who are being awarded the Vanguard Distinguished Leadership awards.