Western rides again

Cable show fills gaps with tech, int'l firms

Like almost all traditional trade shows, the Western Show, which runs from Dec. 14-17, has seen a drop-off in its core constituents over the past few years.

While this year’s show boasts higher attendance figures than last year overall, cable networks — especially fully distributed ones — are sending fewer people and are planning fewer announcements.

Stephen Brenner, USA Networks president of operations, compares the cable show to the now defunct ACE Awards. Like the CableACEs, the Western Show might be past its prime.

“The industry looked at the ACE Awards and said: ‘Why are we doing this?’ As an industry, we were spending close to $15 million on the awards and nobody was watching. We need to re-think the cable shows in the same way,” Brenner said.

But international and tech companies are filling the gap. “It’s a convergence show,” said C. J. Hirschfield, California Cable Television Assn. VP of industry affairs, and manager of the Western Show. “There will be many dot-com companies and representatives from Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley.”

In fact, there are 82 new Western Show exhibitors and 43 new CableNet exhibitors for this year’s show, which for the first time will be held in Los Angeles, at the Convention Center. But most of this new blood will come from tech firms looking to sell rather than established cable operators looking for new product.

One reason why cable nets are reluctant to announce big news at the show is that, in all the clutter, it’s easy for your message to get lost. “It’s one of the problems associated with success: When you’ve got 30,000 attendees and 700 media people, getting your voice heard is a challenge,” Hirschfield said.

To get attention at this year’s Western Show, cable networks are getting creative. Playboy TV will give show attendees a photo opportunity with Millennium Playmates and “Naughty Nurses” Sky and Keri Windsor.

Lifetime Television will have a different type of talent present. Vanessa Williams, star of the femme cabler’s upcoming telefilm “Courage to Love,” will sign autographs and actresses Sela Ward, Annie Potts and Lorraine Toussaint will stop by the booth to promote their respective shows. To create buzz, Lifetime plans to give away trips to New Orleans and Los Angeles.

Discovery Networks will take a more economical approach to the show. “We put on a good show, but we don’t spend the king of money some networks do, flying in Rod Stewart, for instance,” said Lori McFarling, senior VP, distribution and marketing strategy, affiliate sales, Discovery Networks.

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