Memories of people and big deals at what used to be cable convention season.
Once upon a time – until four years ago – May or June was Cable Show season. At about this time of year, for three or four days, cable operators and vendors conferred and cajoled and congratulated each other on the industry’s successes.
For the past few years, many cable veterans have lamented the loss of the annual convention which ran for more than 50 years. Although the final INTX convention – the re-renamed National Cable TV Association annual gathering – unfolded then folded in 2016, there are plenty of memories of the people and especially the parties of bygone years. When I posted about a dozen of my photos from 2010 through 2016 conventions on the Facebook “Cable Old Timers” page last week, the comments and the deluge of others’ personal memories was overwhelming.
The following pictures, a few of which were on the social media page, are from my personal snaps. I tried to emulate the tradition of the late Burt Harris , who was notorious for taking and sharing friends’ pictures back in the film era. I’ve included one selfie: an in-flight picture with a former NCTA President plus a photo from my earliest days at an NCTA convention – a reminder of how cable old timers spend their lives in and around the industry. There are plenty more where these came from in my film collection.
For today’s memories, let’s focus on people-at-parties and in deals, , not panelists on platforms or products in booths. After all, what we really miss about those Cable Shows is seeing old friends (sadly some of them no longer with us).
This photo from the 2011 show generated the most responses on Facebook, and it’s from a truly memorable moment on the show floor in Chicago. Jim Chiddix (left), the retired Time Warner Cable top techie, and I were strolling when we bumped into Sid Topol, former CEO/President of Scientific-Atlanta (2nd from right), who was doing booth duty for a start-up in which he had invested. As the three of us were chatting, along comes Julian Brodsky (right) and Mark Coblitz (between Chiddix and Topol) – the investment guys at Comcast. What ensued was a classic moment of showfloor drama. The booth’s sales chief, seeing the Comcast badges but not knowing Brodsky and Coblitz’s roles, went into a standard pitch about the qualities and capabilities of the product. Topol quickly shut him up and summoned the company’s president, who recognized the opportunity to plunge into a much higher-level spiel about this technology’s value to Comcast. I never heard the ending of that story (whether Comcast put up any funding or even whether the company survived), but it was an incredble meeting of great minds and leadership amidst the hubbub of the convention floor.
At the 2010 Convention in Los Angeles, the Chairman’s Reception was awash with cable celebrities enjoying the sundown on the terrace near the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Don’t we wish we could know what some of these executives were discussing – or trying to learn from each other.
The L.A. convention always brought out a lot of familiar faces – and no one know if they were just being friendly or cooking up deals.
In 2011 in Chicago Linda Brodsky reminisced with her original CATV mentor Selman Kremer at the Pioneers banquet. He hired her at Jerrold Electronics and they both went on to varied careers in the MSO and technologies worlds (and I was fortunate to keep up with both of them until their deaths a couple years apart in different parts of the country).
At the Boston Cable Show in 2012, leaders of the current C-SPAN braintrust gathered momentarily: Bruce Collins, Susan Swain and Rob Kennedy, with attorney Mark Palchick photobombing in the right corner.
Legendary MSO and investor John Evans hobnobbed with scrivener Pat Gushman. Always-ebullient NCTA Senior VP Barbara York was ecstatic at the Vanguard luncheon on the last day of the Boston Show.
In 2013 in Washington, DC, Kay Koplivitz (who had already moved on to consulting and investment projects, especially encouragement of women in business) huddled with Larry Kramer, who had recently become President/Publisher of USA Today after a long career in electronic and print media.
By then, there were already signs of the changes in the cable industry operations: the once overflowing publication bins of free magazine samples were virtually empty and the message boards were irrelevant as the texting era evolved, and no need for printed press release handouts in the Media Room.
At the Los Angeles Show in 2014, former NCTA President Tom Wheeler (at top) was not warmly greeted, but current President Michael Power enjoyed himself playing futuristic videogames in the Internet of Things showcase on the convention floor.
By showtime in Boston in 2016, it was obvious that exhibitors didn’t need the Show anymore, evidenced by the acres of empty space in the convention hall.
There were pleasant reminders of eternal creativity from tech veterans Ted Hartson and Walt Ciccoria, who donned QR emblem sweatshirts from their latest brainchild SymbolShifters, which sought to embed interactivity into older DTV receivers.
I flew home that year from the Boston convention with Robert Schmidt, who was NCTA President while I was on the association’s staff.
It was another good reason to remember one of my first NCTA conventions circa 1978 when Brian Lamb (before C-SPAN) and Robert Luff (before his Scientific-Atlanta and NBC gigs) were aboard the paddle-boat party in New Orleans.
And finally, here’s a memory of the last photo from the last event at the last NCTA gathering – the Vanuard Awards ceremony at the 2016 Boston convention. I had already headed to the airport, so I inveigled the NCTA staff to help me find this appropriate final memory photo.
NCTA’s Wyatt Barnett, senior director of Industry & Association Affairs, acknowledges that this photo of the 2016 Vanguard winners “was never posted for reasons that have been lost to the sands of time.” So here is the first appearance of the last photo from the conventions of the past decade.
Many happy memories to all.