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AT&T, Disney Join Western Pullouts

Three cable industry giants — AT&T Broadband, the ABC Cable Networks Group and ESPN — last week became the latest defectors from the Western Show.

Citing corporate travel restrictions, AT&T Broadband became the first major MSO to date to drop out of the show. And late last week The Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN and ABC Cable – whose stable includes Disney Channel, Toon Disney and SoapNet – said they were dropping plans to exhibit at the confab this November in Anaheim, Calif.

"Given recent events and economic realities far beyond anyone's control or anticipation, we can no longer make the same commitment to this year's Western Show that we have in previous years," an ABC Cable spokesman said last Friday. "We will not be exhibiting or sponsoring events. Our executives plan to attend the show and participate in panels and conference events."

An ESPN spokesman said that while the sports programmer will send a "contingent" of executives to the show, "based on today's realities, we will not have a booth this year."

Disney's ABC Cable and ESPN join two other huge programmers, Turner Broadcasting System Inc. and the Fox Cable Networks Group, who in late September opted not to exhibit. They are part of a list of other non-exhibitors, such as MTV Networks, Discovery Networks U.S. and A&E Networks.

AT&T had been one of a handful of MSOs that agreed to schedule management meetings in conjunction with the Western Show in Anaheim. Those operators are getting discounted dues and free hotel rooms from the California Cable Television Association.

Although AT&T is out, Cox Communications Inc., Charter Communications Inc., Adelphia Communications Corp., Insight Communications Co. and Mediacom LLC are still on board to conduct internal staff meetings at the show, according to the CCTA.

Insight CEO Michael Willner "feels strongly that we should do our part to get back to normal for the good of the American economy," an Insight spokeswoman said. Insight is based in New York.

Adelphia, of Coudersport, Pa., will send 40 senior managers to Anaheim, CCTA president Spencer Kaitz told exhibitors in a letter last week, while St. Louis-based Charter will hold its annual budget meeting there with 30 top managers.

Atlanta-based Cox is dispatching 40 senior managers; Insight is sending 15 and Mediacom, of Middletown, N.Y., will have 17 top managers in tow.

Representatives from the Top 12 MSOs, including Stamford, Conn.-based Time Warner Cable, will be attending the show, the CCTA said.

Comcast expects to have the same presence at this year's Western Show as it did last year, an MSO spokesman in Philadelphia said. Cablevision System Corp. officials said they would be sending a contingent from Bethpage, N.Y.

The Weather Channel, though, joined the roster of programmers that have cancelled plans to exhibit.

"We're just spending the money elsewhere in light of all the recent events," a TWC spokeswoman said. "But we will have people attending."

TRAVEL CUTBACKS

As for MSOs, Englewood, Colo.-based AT&T Broadband blamed its Western Show cancellation on a combination of reasons, including conforming to parent AT&T Corp.'s restrictions on non-essential business travel issued after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

The MSO is also trying to keep its expenses in line and to keep its management team focused on hitting their fourth-quarter numbers, company spokesman Rob Stoddard said.

AT&T Broadband was slated to send about 40 executives, at the senior vice president level and above, to Anaheim to attend a MSO-wide leadership conference just prior to the start of the Western Show. The AT&T officials were to meet Nov. 27 and the morning of Nov. 28, and then were encouraged to stay and attend the show.

AT&T Broadband has told executives at its California systems who wouldn't necessarily have to fly to Anaheim — in the San Francisco Bay area, Sacramento and Los Angeles — that it was up to them to decide whether or not to go.

"There is a strong indication that they will attend," Stoddard said.

CCTA spokesman Paul Fadelli said AT&T's possible pending sale clearly influenced the pullout. "AT&T is in the middle of delicate negotiations and discussions that I'm sure helped play into its decision," he said. "We continue to have strong commitments from our other participating MSOs."

But Stoddard claimed uncertainty over the eventual ownership of AT&T Broadband "does not relate to this decision at all."

In its letter, the CCTA assured exhibitors that MSO leadership "will be in attendance at out intimate Chairman's reception on Wednesday evening," a "prime networking event" that won't include representatives of non-exhibiting companies.

The show last week added a new potential drawing card: Ted Turner. The Cable Center will record Turner's video history during a luncheon Nov. 28 at the show.

Turner, the founder of Cable News Network and Turner Broadcasting System Inc., as well as vice chairman and senior advisor at AOL Time Warner Inc., will begin telling his story at noon during the Nov. 28 luncheon at the Anaheim Hilton. Tickets for the event are $150 each.

Turner Broadcasting is one of many programmers that has opted not to exhibit at the show this year.

The biggest programmers still set to exhibit are Rainbow Media Holdings Inc. and NBC Cable. Other programmer exhibitors include Pax TV, Univision/Galavision, Bloomberg TV, Court TV, C-Span, TechTV, The Golf Channel, Outdoor Channel, INSP-The Inspiration Network and EWTN.

"We're definitely in," said NBC Cable president David Zaslav, whose stable includes CNBC and MSNBC. "We have the Olympics in Salt Lake City in February, so we're really going to focus on meeting with all of our distributors and work with them."

Court TV is also resolved to remain a Western Show exhibitor, said Bob Rose, the network's executive vice president of affiliate relations. He noted that Court TV is now in 65 million homes, and needs another 20 million to be fully distributed.

"The CCTA has guaranteed us that our key customers are going to be at the show," Rose said. "We are committed to the CCTA and making sure we are in front of our customers."

Several other programmers listed as exhibitors said — some publicly and some privately — that their plans might change.

"We haven't made a final decision," a Hallmark Channel spokeswoman said.

2002 CONSOLIDATION

In light of the problems the Western Show is facing, and to help spur attendance, the National Cable Television Association is talking to other trade groups about scheduling their events during the same week and in the same place — New Orleans — as the National Show next year.

"We've been talking about ways to work together, given industry consolidation," said Char Beales, president of the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing.

As a result, CTAM is planning to hold its 2002 broadband opportunity conference next May in New Orleans, timed to coincide with the National Show, either the day before the NCTA show starts or during it, Beales said.