Western Show: Now It's Broadband Plus

As the industry gathers, future holds new products, challenges


As the cable industry offers an ever-increasing number of services to its customers, it remains to be seen whether competitors such as satellite TV and the Internet will oust cable from its narrowing perch over millions of viewers.

One year after a diminished show marred by post-9/11 concerns, the picture remains blurry. However, some bright spots are on the horizon. Cable is responding to the FCC's request for more HDTV by rolling out HD programming on a growing number of channels including HBO, Showtime, Discovery and ESPN. And while still a trickle, an increasing number of MSOs are carrying broadcasters' HD programming.

The imminent AT&T-Comcast merger could be a huge industry boost. On the other hand, AOL Time Warner is facing rumors of a split Mix in Cablevision's attempt to enter the satellite TV business, plummeting cable stocks, Adelphia's bankruptcy and a continuing nasty fight with broadcasters over must-carry and things get even trickier.


Nonetheless, a cautious optimism should prevail as the industry gathers for the California Cable and Telecommunications Association (CCTA) annual Western Show, which rivals the spring NCTA as the industry's premier trade show. Now known as "Broadband Plus: The New Western Show 2002," the show features more than 200 exhibitors, technical sessions and seminars at the Anaheim Convention Center Dec. 6-8.

Research firm Accenture says the cable industry lost over $1 billion in new revenue to subscribers' defecting to satellite in 2000. As of July, cable still had about 73 million subscribers to satellite's 19 million. But despite the recent failure of the EchoStar-DirecTV merger, cable operators are not rejoicing.

CCTA Vice President Jerry Yanowitz is attuned to the tumult in the market and is up for the challenge. "We're facing a real threat from the direct broadcast satellite people," he says. "This is a lot of competition for consumer's time and dollars, [including] from broadcasters who have really good programming that our customers also watch. It's a very competitive marketplace and I think what's on people minds utmost is, how do I compete most effectively?"


"How?" has become cable's million-dollar question and conference-goers can expect the New Western Show to try to answer it. The conference is evolving with cable's expanding capabilities and has gradually broadened from its origins as a show for key industry executives to include more general sessions, educational panels, technical presentations and speakers like Comcast President Brian Roberts, Insight Communications' CEO Michael Willner, Mediacom's CEO Rocco Commisso and Anne Sweeney, president of Disney/ABC Cable Networks.

CCTA President Spencer Kaitz wants the conference to be a "kinder, gentler and more inclusive environment." Yanowitz concedes thst last year was difficult for the show and for the communications industry after 9/11. "We're going ... to make sure everybody feels welcome and knows there is a place for them at the show," he says.

"This is the most mysterious Western Show in decades," says Gary Arlen, an industry consultant with Bethesda, Md.-based Arlen Communications. "The CCTA is completely revamping the agenda, but a lot of the veterans are going to continue to call it the Western Show and expect what they've seen for years."

Attendees can anticipate perspectives from all facets of cable. The seminars, aimed at increasing profit margin, have operational, marketing, sales, engineering, financial, legal and public policy panelists hashing out everything from leveraging broadband and driving high-speed internet penetration to launching video-on-demand (VOD), adapting to retail set-top requirements and selling customers on interactive TV. Ensuring that those outside the industry can relate and understand new cable developments is a priority.

Technical sessions by the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) will focus on delivering interactive technologies and preparing the industry for the future. Broadband's role in the networked home, building operation support systems and managing the rollout of advanced services are all on tap.

"It in part reflects that the cable TV industry has been a leader and in the forefront of technological change," Yanowitz says of the show's increased technical orientation. "I think what's exciting is not necessarily the technology, but what it allows us to bring to the consumer: high-speed Internet access, telephones, digital cable."


Sponsored by the CCTA and CableLabs, CableNet is the integrated technology part of the show that, on its tenth anniversary, is hoping to "Turn On the Future" with its exhibits. To explore the potential of cable's Hybrid Fiber/Coaxial (HFC) network, about 60 broadband demonstrators will participate in educational showcases of VOD/SVOD, HDTV, high-speed modems, home networking, interactive video, Internet telephony, next-generation networks and online gaming, including 14 demonstrators that will debut in the interactive centerpiece. Imaginative concepts in wireless solutions or hybrid approaches will also be on display.

But is any one CableNet application going to unleash cable's potential? "We would argue that whether its video or telecommunications that it doesn't much matter anymore," says CableLabs spokesman Mike Schwartz. "Because the services can all be deployed over cable's broadband network: voice, video, data and digital video and high-definition video."

And what, exactly, are cable consumers are looking for in new technology? Schwartz cites the tens of millions of Americans with varied cable services. "The bigger point, and one that CableNet tends to show, is that the cable network is highly capable and effective at delivering all of these services to consumers," he says. "It's not 'it's this or it's that.' It's having basically voice/video/data that cable networks are capable of delivering."


Some recent CableNet technologies are on the brink of crossing over from the showroom to the living room. "One of the advancements this year would be actual DOCSIS 2.0 [Data over Cable Service Interface Specification]-based equipment that will be on display and since last year we've certified some DOCSIS 1.1 products so there may be some of that in CableNet this year," Schwartz says.

Interoperability is the undercurrent of more than just cable technology. "There is an increasing synergy between different parts of the industry and even people who we have traditionally thought about as not in the industry," Yanowitz explains. "It wasn't too long ago that cable TV was not in the Internet business and now clearly it's a large part of our business. We're the largest providers of broadband Internet access."

It appears that for cable to flourish, the industry needs cooperation - from everyone. "As we bring people together from different aspects of media and entertainment, I think it's natural that they would be at here," Yanowitz says.

"It's going to be an unknown mixture of expectations versus what it really looks like," says Arlen. "Expectations are that attendance will be way down [because] fewer companies are sending attendees and the exhibit list is significantly smaller than recent years."

To register, visit www.broadbandplus.org.