CCTA Hopes for a Western Show Grand Finale

After a 36-year run, the Western Cable Show will make its curtain call this December, citing consolidation in the cable industry and economic pressure.

The show's organizer, California Cable Telecommunications Association, is looking to make this last Western Show a big one. Top MSO executives, including Time Warner Cable chief Glenn Britt, Cox Cable head Jim Robbins, Bresnan Communication's Bill Bresnan and Insight Communications Chairman Michael Willner have pledged to attend, the CCTA said. The show is slated for Dec. 2-5 at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif.

And, with cable operators pledging to turn out, "Programmers and suppliers will follow," predicted CCTA Vice President of Federal Affairs Jerry Yanowitz.

The Western Show's death follows a quick but apparently incurable ailment. In recent years, programmers have defected en masse off the floor and attendance has declined. Last December's show attracted nearly 10,000, off from about 17,000 in 2001 and a massive 33,000 in 2000.

For years, the cable industry supported two major shows—the Western Show and The National Cable & Telecommunication Association's annual spring National Show. But, faced with increased financial pressure and consolidation, programmers and distributors have questioned the need for two big gatherings.

To its credit, the CCTA conjured up tactics to make its show more desirable and easy on corporate pocketbooks. In 2001, the association footed the bill for top MSO execs to attend the show. And, for exhibitors, it introduced cheaper, prefabricated booths and hotel suites for meetings as alternatives for expensive booths, which can run upwards of $100,000 to assemble and staff.

At last year's confab, the Hallmark Channel was one of a handful of programmers on the floor. The year before, the network went with a hotel suite.

Now, with one more Western Show to go, Hallmark execs are evaluating the options. "The CCTA made a business decision," Hallmark Channel's distribution chief Ron Garfield said of this final show. "Our decision will be based on a business decision."

Without the Western Show, says Fox Cable's Executive Vice President of Affiliate Sales Lindsay Gardner, "people in the industry will have to find other ways to come together," like increased support for industry events like the Kaitz Foundation's annual dinner and Cable Positive.

The CCTA, which generated about 30% of its revenue from last year's show, also slashed its staff 40% last year. The organization says it will continue on with its lobbying efforts in California.

Before sealing the show's fate, the association had to get out of its commitments with the city of Anaheim, Calif. and the convention center there, which were to run through 2006.

One element of the Western Show, the CableLabs' CableNet exhibit of new technology, will be incorporated into the National Show.

For Bresnan Communications' chief, the end is bittersweet. He recalls attending his first California cable show in 1965 in San Diego, a few years before it was even called the Western Show.

"The show has had a tremendous impact on the growth of the industry," Bresnan said. "A lot of people enjoyed going, profited from it, and learned a lot. Businesses were helped by it."