Back at the height of the cable boom in the 1980s, the NCTA's Barbara York tells me, the erstwhile Cable Show would draw 30,000 attendees.
Next week, as the National Cable and Telecommunications Association convenes its signature trade show in Chicago under a new name, INTX, and a broadened agenda, producers are expecting a third of that attendance level.
For the newly rechristened "Internet & TV Expo," 10,000 wouldn't be a bad number. The last time the NCTA put together its big confab in the Windy City, in 2011, the event yielded 13,000 visitors. It had continued to crater since, bottoming out at 10,000 last year at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Given the state of not just the cable industry but the trade show business in general, flat would be a good thing.
York, who leads the production of the show every year from her post as senior VP of industry affairs for the NCTA, says she's not real concerned with the numbers. She says she puts far more stock in the surveys she gets back at the end of the show every year from NCTA constituents.
"It's the experience that matters," she told me.
Big numbers, of course, would be nice, too, but the NCTA--and everyone else that rents out a convention hall--is fighting the usual disruptive force of the Internet. Simply put, denizens of all industries have so many more ways to get information and socially connect with their peers than they used to.
"Many people wonder if they really need to commit to go to another city," she explained. "It's a harder decision today than it was 20 years ago."
Of course, while downplaying the numbers, the NCTA wouldn't have broadened the focus of the show without increased participation in mind.
"'Cable' is a fatuous word," York said. "It does not explain our core business, which is providing Internet services across the United States and providing tremendously valuable content. We're hoping to change the focus of the show and bring in new players who might say, 'We're certainly not cable.'"
The Cable Show wasn't blissfully unaware these last few years that IP-based technologies are profoundly disrupting the pay-TV business. But the rebranding and format suggest a heightened awareness. Visit the INTX homepage, and you get a sense of what the NCTA is going for, mixing the mugs of the old guard--Comcast chief Brian Roberts and A+E Networks president and CEO Nancy Dubuc--with new blood, such as Vimeo CEO Kerry Trainor and former Fox chief turned online video impresario Peter Chernin.
"We realized the Cable Show, while it had tremendous loyalty and history, going forward it need to better address the needs of our member companies," York said.--Daniel