Western Show more than entertainment

Western Show more than entertainment

By GRACE F. MURPHY

There was a time when having cable television simply meant clearer reception of the three major networks. Today, it means 24-hour news, espn, mtv, and movies round-the-clock.

Aside from giving customers hundreds of information and entertainment choices, cable TV can also deliver voice, video, and data over one line. The technology behind those offerings, along with the marketing tools needed to sell them, will take center stage at next month`s California Cable Television Association`s Thirtieth Annual Western Show.

This year`s convention, called "30 Years of Change," will be held December 9 to 12 in Anaheim, CA. The convention is one of the industry`s ritziest and offers sessions for an audience ranging from cable system engineers to chief executives.

The event kicks off with a general session about First Amendment concerns in the digital age. There are 21 seminars covering marketing, programming, technology, public policy, operations/finance, and international issues, along with six technical sessions.

The technical sessions are organized by the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers scte and include a forum just for written examinations for various engineering certification programs.

Cable-TV stations that believe their next 30 years depend on providing Internet access, telephony, or interactive television, can attend a technical session about the two-way cabling plant and learn about the pitfalls of building and operating a reverse cable system.

According to session moderator Ron Hranac, senior vice president of engineering at Coaxial International, Denver, CO, the fiber path between customers and the cabling plant is key to a successful two-way cable system. For years, fiber has been used in cable system networks for its transmission speed and higher bandwidth.

As the industry becomes more active in non-entertainment services, companies are trying to improve reverse paths, Hranac says. Fiber`s ability to accommodate bidirectional traffic efficiently and quietly, and its ability to transfer data, make it even more attractive to cable-TV companies contemplating reverse cable systems.

Alan Babcock, director of training development for scte, says that the session will feature speakers with first-hand knowledge about designing and maintaining a two-way cable system. Challenges up for discussion include path alignment, noise, and frequency disruption encountered with traffic between a customer and the cabling plant.

Another technical session focuses on the installation of network management systems. "Network management needs to know what condition the plant is in before customers know there`s a problem. We need to know the way the architecture is constructed so we can manage the components out in the network," Babcock says.

Event organizers anticipate that sessions about cable modems will prove as popular as they were last year. According to Paul Rodriguez, vice president of P&P MediaWorks, Laurel, MD, several of the general seminars will focus on modems.

During one seminar, marketers, researchers, and other experts will discuss revenue projections, packaging, branding, and pricing to ensure success while pushing the new product line. Other seminars will examine marketing issues for selling Internet access and how cable modems will be sold, installed, and operated.

One of the technical sessions addresses the technical abilities needed by cable operators providing Internet access to customers. Subjects up for discussion include new job skills needed by cable installers, such as for software installation and training of customers on its use. In another session, cable operators will discuss cable telephony trials.

The show will also feature several digital video panels conducted by operators who will discuss operational, technical, and marketing challenges faced while employing the technology during the past year, Rodriguez says.

For individual cable systems with sites on the World Wide Web, the show offers a competition. Judges will select a panel of winners to explain how they created their page and explain its success with customers.

"It seems to us that the business world has recognized that the Web offers a good communications tool to reach customers. The cable industry has somewhat recognized this. Programmers have seized it and gotten lots of attention. Cable operators have been slower to take advantage of this resource," Rodriguez says.

In addition to the seminars, the show features 375 exhibits, round-table discussions about human resources, legal and public affairs issues, and a Cablenet technology showcase. Cablenet is a joint project of the California Cable Television Association with CableLabs, and is more educational than sales-oriented, according to Rodriguez.

"This is where the industry is headed. All the companies exhibiting there--the technology they have is within a year of rollout. What you see there is what we`re working on introducing the next year," he says. q

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