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Hollywood, Tech Meet at Cable Show

"My World," an umbrella theme as well as the name for a 27,000 square-foot exhibit area of futuristic applications, epitomizes the vision of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association for its 59th annual convention, May 11–13 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

On the exhibit floor, just over half of the 300 exhibits will be tech-centric, a slightly higher share than last year. Leveraging its near-Hollywood venue, the Cable Show will emphasize the industry's show business strengths while reeling in the technology of Silicon Valley, a veritable return to the "SiliWood" convergence of a decade ago. With FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski making his first NCTA appearance, the "Spring Cable Week" agenda will give the expected 12,000 attendees glimpses of an expansive "world" from regulatory, programming and engineering perspectives.


Technical sessions encompass 3DTV, IPTV and plus the usual array of operating issues for cable's "TV Everywhere" and triple-play deployment, including mobile video. The convention's general sessions and ancillary events embrace the "show" of show business. Interactive advertising and other advanced TV functions are also peppered throughout the agenda.

"This year's show is going to be different," explains Barbara York, senior vice president of Industry Affairs for NCTA. "Rather than having line-of-business silos, we're really trying—both on the show floor and in the sessions—to have a broad conversation with Hollywood, Silicon Valley, cable operators and program net works." She points out that the long-running CableNet showcase of new technology and the expansive new "My World" pavilion also extend that cross-industry conversation.

In the ramp-up to the show, NCTA has dangled promotional phrases such as "Convergence 2.0" and "Beyond Cable: Beyond Boundaries and Expectations," to emphasize the broad objectives of the convention's return to California after several years in Atlanta, Las Vegas, New Orleans and Washington. (The 2005 convention was held in San Francisco.)

The convention's daily General Sessions will mingle cable executives and Hollywood executives, including a one-on-one conversation with Brian Roberts, Chairman and CEO of Comcast Corp. at the Newsmaker Brunch on Tuesday, May 11. At press time, NCTA was still finalizing its speaker roster just weeks before the event.

The technical program, which pulls together input from NCTA's own Science and Technology department, the Society of Cable and Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) and Cable TV Laboratories (CableLabs), will offer seven panels of peer-reviewed presentations plus three additional sessions, including the 3D and IPTV explorations. Altogether, about 50 people will offer their technical reports and perspectives. On the day prior to the convention's opening session, CableLabs is running a "law and technology conference."

"All three organizations are working closely together to educate and inform executives from throughout the industry on the latest innovations in broadband technology," said Dan Pike, CTO at GCI Cable and chairman of the Spring Technical Forum Selection Committee. "This new, combined technology conference provides attendees the best possible learning experience all in one place."

Pike points to the technical program's range of content, including "the popular topic of 'green' issues" which will focus on improving energy efficiency and cost savings from alternative energy sources.

Echoing the importance of the California venue, Pike also notes that, "Differing from previous years and due to our location in Los Angeles, there will be a customized presentation of the cable technology ecosystem geared for the local West Coast engineering community."

Mark Bell, NCTA vice president, Industry Affairs, adds that the topics submitted for technical papers emphasized the appetite for "anything that improves encoding and efficiencies in transport" as well as the migration to IP.

Although "the jury is still out" on 3D, Bell says NCTA added a tech session on the topic, featuring Mark Shubin, the celebrated video guru. The NCTA agenda will also include the CIO.IT program, aimed at cable companies' information technology officials.

"Cable IT is an increasingly dynamic environment, and the number of challenges and issues we are managing has increased exponentially in recent years," said Frank Boncimino, senior vice president and CIO at Time Warner Cable and chair of the committee that oversees the IT program. Boncimino says the presentations for this track of sessions are intended "to further improve cable IT, and ultimately, the customer experience."


On the exhibit show floor, just over half of the 300 exhibits will be tech-centric, a slightly higher share than last year, York says. The overall number of exhibitors is about the same, although the 150,000 square feet of exhibit floor space at the Los Angeles Convention Center is about 10 percent more than NCTA used last year in Washington, D.C.

The 27,000-square-foot "My World" pavilion is an updated version of the "Broadband Nation" showcase that NCTA mounted to impress legislators, regulators, opinion-leaders and industry friends last year. York describes this year's Los Angeles version as a "metaphoric backdrop" for the message "My World Powered by Cable."

It will feature examples of "social TV," broadband education, mobile services, home energy management solutions, online videogames and home networking.

"The cable platform is the glue, the support system… [for] a consumer-oriented exhibit," York adds. About 30 companies, including technology suppliers, content and applications providers, will show their wares in My World, including Comcast Cable, Time Warner Cable, Motorola, Cisco Systems, LG Electronics, Intel, Hewlett Packard, Dolby Labs, ESPN/ABC, Fox Cable Networks, Arts & Entertainment TV Networks, JBL Systems, Clearwire, CommScope, jinni and Active Video Networks.

"The goal is to underscore how cable's advanced architecture promotes services, how content can be personal, portable, discoverable and shareable," York said.

That approach includes mobile delivery as part of the "TV Everywhere" and "Anywhere" vision, explains NCTA's Bell. "It's an MSO portal, with authentication at the portal and various implementations of thick and thin clients or cloud-based."

Bell emphasizes cable's relevance in the new media space, chanting the mantra, "content anytime, anyplace on any device" to characterize the industry's role as "part of the connected home environment." He cites the convention committee's goal to market cable's capabilities "to those key audiences in Hollywood and Silicon Valley."

"It's a chance to say to them: cable is a trusted partner [with] business models that work," Bell adds, noting that the cable "platform is evolving to deliver new [services]."

Separately, the CableNet area—about 7,700 square feet—will showcase about 30 exhibits, including start-up or early-stage projects of larger suppliers. Program networks will largely operate out of "executive suites" at the edge of the show floor, mostly for meetings with affiliates.

On the regulatory front, in addition to FCC Chairman Genachowski, who will appear at a General Session at the Nokia Theater on Thursday, May 13, NCTA has invited all of the other FCC commissioners. Two sessions will feature FCC staff members. The agenda also has a new "Cable Academy" track, a day-and-a-half program to introduce state and local officials to the cable industry's technology and services.


NCTA and the other cable industry groups involved in Spring Cable Week (May 10-14), are still fine-tuning their collaborative agenda, which debuted last year. CTAM, the cable marketing society, is running its Cable Consumer Research & Insights conference concurrent with the show, May 12-14.

However, SCTE has dropped its "Emerging Technologies" program as a separate event during Spring Cable Week, and the Cable Advertising Bureau is programming three convention sessions but does not have its own conference within the Cable Week agenda. Similarly, CableLabs' "tru2way Developers Conference," which ran last year, will be a single session of the 2010 agenda.

And Canoe Ventures, the MSO-led organization developing interactive ad formats, will "definitely be a story running throughout the show," said York, who expects a "lot of buzz" about Canoe, depending on what they plan to announce.

Gary Arlen
Gary Arlen

Gary Arlen, a contributor to Broadcasting & Cable, NextTV and TV Tech, is known for his visionary insights into the convergence of media + telecom + content + technology. His perspectives on public/tech policy, marketing and audience measurement have added to the value of his research and analyses of emerging interactive and broadband services. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the long-time “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports; Gary writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs.