SBCA Trade Show Gets a Face-Lift

In an effort to maintain its relevance in a fast-changing industry, the Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association will introduce changes to its annual convention, scheduled for August 7 to 9 in Las Vegas.

This year, the trade show will place even more emphasis on the installer training and certification program that kicked off last year. The SBCA is also launching a programmer spotlight conference, to give networks an alternative to expensive trade-show booths.

"With consolidation, a lot of programmers feel exhibiting at a trade show is an expensive proposition," said National Football League senior vice president of market development Tola Murphy-Baran. She cited the cost of shipping a booth, the labor involved in set-up and the union fees needed to provide such necessities as electricity.

In recent years, some programmers have opted not to exhibit at both satellite and cable-industry trade shows. Rather than fight the trend, the SBCA decided to create a new way of bringing the programmers and their counterparts from the direct-broadcast satellite TV and satellite-radio companies together.

"Our obligation is to be vital and relevant to our industry, and to move forward," said SBCA senior vice president Margaret Parone.

The programmer spotlight will include sessions on retailer promotions, as well as consumer research and affiliate relations. There will also be a stage that networks can use to educate and entertain attendees.

"It's a way to keep programmers on the floor without having them set up a large display," said SBCA president Andy Wright.

The NFL will bring a modified booth to the SBCA show this year, where it will set up an NFL Films theater, said Murphy-Baran. Visitors will be able to sit in stadium-style seats and watch 16-millimeter-film-quality footage from football games.

A few other programmers — including Home Box Office, Showtime Networks Inc. and MTV Networks — have also chosen to remain on the exhibit floor, as well as participate in the programmer spotlight.

New to the show floor are satellite-radio providers XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio, as well as 11 other companies, Parone said.

The SBCA is negotiating with XM and Sirius to put together a certification program for satellite-radio installers, Parone added.

On the DBS front, installer certification is more important than ever, given the drive for new subscribers, the complexity of new satellite broadband technologies and the pending merger between EchoStar Communications Corp. and DirecTV Inc. parent Hughes Electronics Corp.

"In a merged environment, not only will you have the continued growth, but you'll need the professional installation force in place to do an equipment swap-out" in 7 million to 10 million DBS homes, Wright added.

"That's going to be a huge job," he said. "The success of that will be dependent on the quality of the installer."

Naturally, that merger is of great interest to DBS retailers. Given that the companies expect a decision from Washington in September or October, "this show is very timely," Wright said.

SBCA executives are "cautiously optimistic" that this year's attendance will match last year's total of nearly 3,500 attendees at Nashville, Tenn.'s Opryland Hotel. As of June 3, pre-registration was 75 percent higher than at the same point last year, Parone said.

"While there are quite a few cable conventions, this is the only opportunity of the year for the entire satellite industry to come together," Murphy-Baran noted.

The SBCA has not yet announced where it will hold next year's gathering. There has been some talk that the show would be held in conjunction with EchoStar's annual dealer summit.

The SBCA has planned for three contingency locations, each related to the timing of the Hughes-EchoStar merger, said Parone.