If there was a cable industry in the Bizarro World then it might have an annual trade show like the one that will take place Monday to Wednesday in Boston. For starters, only someone from the planet in Superman comics where everything is backward — police commit crimes, sanitation workers throw garbage around, etc. — would think execs might enjoy trying to book a hotel room in Boston in the middle of college graduation season. What’s even stranger, though, is that some of cable’s biggest champions won’t be there, but some of its most nettlesome adversaries will. No-shows start with the King of Cable, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts — who lately has used the annual event to evangelize the latest gee-whiz technologies. Also, for the first time in memory Viacom’s MTV Networks won’t have a presence on the trade show floor. It couldn’t justify the expense at a time when cable operators are more interested in dumping channels than in paying for new ones. Others seem to feel the same way: The show will have more than 200 exhibitors, down from about 277 last year, and they’ll take up 120,000 square feet, down from 140,000.
It’s intriguing to see who will attend, though. Netflix, which has done more than anyone to help consumers cut the cable TV cord, will send Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos. That could revive speculation that operators might offer Netflix as a premium service like HBO — a notion that they’ve consistently dismissed. In addition, Google is sending at least two execs. Hard to imagine that they’d get a warm welcome as their company prepares its Google Fiber test in Kansas City; the company is building a state-of-the-art fiber optic network capable of transmitting video and broadband. And Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead will show. His company was considered in the enemy camp until late last year when Comcast and other operators reached a controversial $3.6B deal to sell spectrum to Verizon and cross market products in territories where they don’t go head-to-head with FiOS.
Since the industry is eager to cut spending, insiders say there probably won’t be as much big news as we’ve seen in previous gatherings. A lot of talk about new apps, and incremental advances in existing technologies. Yet we could hear some interesting comments about progress in TV Everywhere, broadband pricing (especially after Comcast’s latest change), and whether streaming services such as Netflix are luring viewers from conventional TV.