Western Show's Last Roundup

The sun will set after this year's Western Show. The executive board of the California Cable Television Association held a conference call Aug. 13 to decide that this year's 36th
annual trade show, scheduled Dec. 2-5 in Anaheim, Calif., will be the last.

Industry consolidation, the departure of programming networks as exhibitors and the economic downturn have cut deeply into attendance of what was once the second largest trade show in the industry.

In its heyday, the winter show attracted more than 30,000 attendees, but last year entertained about 10,000.

Officials said the show was profitable last year, but executives questioned whether all the work was worth the declining profits.

Though the final decision was made last week, efforts to shut down the show began months ago. That's when CCTA officials approached the Anaheim hotels that service the show, as well as the city of Anaheim and the local Visitor and Convention Authority, to see if the association could get out of its long-term contracts without having to spend too much money.

"Our highest priority was to get out of the contracts with little or no liability. If we couldn't, we might have gone in a different direction," said Jerry Yanowitz, vice president of the CCTA, who has been in charge of the meeting for the last two years. The organization had deals with Anaheim and the hotels through 2006 and was able to get out of the deals paying "not zero [dollars], but pretty close," Yanowitz said.

In announcing the decision, CCTA president and general counsel Spencer Kaitz noted industry leaders have pledged to attend and support the final show so the Western Show can go out on a high note.

Confirmed participants include Time Warner Cable chairman and CEO Glenn Britt, Cox Communications Inc. president and CEO Jim Robbins, Bresnan Communications' founder and CEO Bob Bresnan and Insight Communication's vice chairman and CEO Michael Willner.

"We want to end this tradition on a high note," Kaitz said in the statement.

Indeed, there have been many high notes in the history of the California show.

For years it was popular for its location (though people tired of Orange County, they appeared to like California winters) and its timing, six months after the National Show. Because of its prominence and draw, it was the venue where operators first heard about digital technology.

It was the venue where CNN was first marketed to cable systems, and more recently, cable modems and IP telephony over cable first had their industry debuts. News from the show buzzed across the industry, such as in 1997 when then-Tele-Communication Inc. chairman John Malone announced his company would be investing $5 billion in high-end "smart" digital set tops.

The most successful part of the Western Show, the technology showcase CableNet, has been met with a strong response for this last show. In the future, CableNet will be integrated into the annual conference sponsored by the National Cable Telecommunications Association.

The decision to axe the show – first reported last week by CableFAX — will cut further into the already depleted coffers of the CCTA.

The trade show has represented 30% of the organization's annual budget. The group has cut its annual operating expenses by 40% over the last two years, including laying off employees. Per-sub dues collected from member companies generate the rest of the budget.

Yanowitz said the trade association has not contemplated how it will make up for the loss of revenue, but added CCTA is examining the models set by other trade groups. For instance, the Cable Television and Telecommunications Association of New York has attracted $6 million in ad revenue in 2002 on behalf of the operators by soliciting accounts from state agencies. The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance alone spent $4 million in cable spots to promote a tax amnesty program.

"We'll take a look at those models and see if they make sense," Yanowitz said.

Upon news of the cancellation, industry sources also speculated about the future activities and make-up of the CCTA, noting that Kaitz has a year and a half remaining on his employment contract. Yanowitz wouldn't speculate on these issues.

Association executives want to focus on a great, and profitable, final show, even if its attendance is buoyed due to nostalgia.

"We'll be sorry to see [the Western Show] go. It brought financial certainty," Yanowitz said.