Cable-Tec Expo Sticking to Its Knitting

As thousands converge on Denver for this week's SCTE•ISBE Cable-Tec Expo, the industry continues to evolve to keep ahead of the changes that are affecting every facet of the cable business as well as technologies that are fueling it.

There’s ongoing consolidation of major and independent operators, increased competition from over-the-top video services and wireless-driven broadband services, and a critical need to train and develop a workforce that can keep pace with the ever-changing landscape.

Though change happening everywhere and a more diverse crowd than usual is expected to be on hand at this year’s show, execs there plan to put on an event that sticks to its knitting, with a focus on its hands-on approach to applied science along with a high-level view on how the industry’s technology and business initiatives are working hand-in-hand.

To get a fix on what’s new and coming up at this year’s show, Multichannel News technology editor Jeff Baumgartner recently caught up with Mark Dzuban, SCTE•ISBE’s president and CEO, and Terry Maloney, the Society’s vice president of marketing and business development.

A key difference heading into this year’s show will be the return of Dzuban, who was forced to miss last year’s show in Philadelphia in order to undergo a heart procedure. “I’m just elated that the team fulfilled the obligation to make sure it was a great show,” Dzuban said. “But [the procedure] went well and I’m excited about being there this year.”

An edited transcript of the discussion with Dzuban and Maloney follows:

Multichannel News: What's your sense on the top two or three themes that are going to be the centerpiece of this year's show? 

Mark Dzuban: I think this show is a good example of the community pulling together. I don't know many industries of this size and this maturity that do it. If I look at our two co-chairs -- Jim Blackley (Charter Communications) and Terry Cordova (Altice USA) -- they are experiencing some of some of the dynamics of consolidation [occurring] in our industry’s evolution. And I think they've done a tremendous job of leveraging Expo as the go-to, hands-on, applied science [event]. 

[Among other focuses of this year’s show include] the wireless component, continually developing IP networking, cybersecurity – they are three big hitters. But you'll see a program on Energy 2020, you'll see a program on innovation and what's coming down the pike.

CableLabs has about 1,500 square feet. So it's really filled the space that was needed, from an applied science perspective, and I look to our partners at NCTA and CableLabs to fulfill the opportunity for the thinkers and the people who are really the deployment folks, the implementers, to get together, to say here's where the rubber meets the road, and to share thinking and get the most current knowledge. 

MCN: What's going to be new and different at this year's show? 

MD: One is if you look at our opening session as an example. We've been through our evolution, focused on business results and not just an event for folks to get together. If you look at the opening session, we've got the home court, which is Mike Fries [CEO, Liberty Global], that will provide a lot of innovative thinking on how you deploy and operate.

We've got also Tom Rutledge [chairman and CEO of Charter], who is following up his keynote around the vision of Charter and where we're going.  And then you'll look at where we go with Dave Watson, another CEO [of Comcast Cable], who will be at the luncheon panel. He's joining Bruce McClelland, another CEO [of Arris], on that panel. 

We've evolving as key and instrumental to driving business results through collaboration and understanding of what the issues are and how SCTE, as a community solution provider.

I think that acknowledgement is improving. It's always been there to some extent, but I think from a C-suite [perspective] this is probably the most C-level folks we've had since I've been here.

MCN: How has, for example, consolidation and the sunsetting of the Cable Show/INTX affected how you assembled this year's program? Has that had an influence on how this year’s show has been put together? 

MD: There is some, but we're focused on the applied science and not getting distracted to recreate something that really isn't our focus. 

Terry Maloney: It provided us with an opportunity for collaboration with NCTA and CableLabs, even more so. They are co-sponsors of the Fall Technical Forum, which drives all of our workshops [and] a cornerstone of our show. 

They were instrumental in partnering with us in collaboration across the industry to drive those workshops and those papers to an increase of 32% of submissions and more workshops -- we're approaching 100 workshops at this year's Expo.

MCN: Given this complementary aspect, are you expecting a more diverse crowd this year than you've seen in prior years? 

MD: I think there will be to some extent. We certainly have the international side, which is continuing to grow, to about 15% of our attendance. They look at us as the center of gravity around not only the science, but how you operationalize some of the technology.

We’re having a special event, for the first time this year, about learning and development, which is the science around how you develop workforce skills for deploying and operating sophisticated technology.  Dr. Karl Kapp [director of the Institute for Interactive Technologies and professor of instructional technology at Bloomberg University in Pennsylvania] and Dr. Martha Soehren [senior vice president and chief talent development officer at Comcast] are going to represent that. [That invitation-only event is set for Wednesday, Oct. 18.]

I think you’ll also see some of the folks from the Pioneers attending our show (the Cable TV Pioneers banquet is to be held Tuesday, Oct. 17 at The Brown Palace in Denver), and that's related to technology to some extent, but there's some programmers and service and support folks involved there too. 

I think we will some more diversity, but it was made very clear to me by our partners to do what we do best, and that's the partnership with NCTA and CableLabs, and focus on the current science and applied science of legacy deployments, current deployments and forward-looking within three years. 

MCN: As you put things together, how has this affected your registration numbers heading toward the event? Are you ahead of schedule? What is your expectation for this year? 

TM: Right now we're trending very well compared to the last time we were in Denver [the 2014 event in the Mile High City drew about 9,100], so we're very optimistic.

Even though we start planning Expo a year in advance and start messaging and marketing it six months in advance, the industry doesn't respond with registrations until the week of. We have this huge hockey stick that happens to us, but we are trending year-over-year. And especially compared to the last time we were in Denver, we're trending very well.

As for our booth sales -- we had our best Expo ever in Philadelphia [in 2016] -- we've already matched the floor space sales for exhibitor space, and we’re still selling booth space.