At the Cable Show, Everything on Display Except What People are Talking About, Including Netflix

The exhibit floor at The Cable Show -- not much glitz, but lots of executives in dark suits.

Courtesy The Cable Show

The exhibit floor at The Cable Show — not much glitz, but lots of executives in dark suits.

The Cable Show, the industry’s annual gathering that’s happening this week under the blazing Los Angeles sun, had no shortage of news to pick apart given Comcast’s $45 billion deal to buy Time Warner Cable announced in February as well as the deal Comcast cut with Charter Communications announced Monday.

But what’s actually on the minds of a lot of cable and media executives here are the companies that aren’t at the show at all: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon.com, Yahoo, Google, Apple, AT&T, Verizon, Dish and DirecTV — essentially every company that isn’t strictly speaking a cable company.

Netflix, of course, looms large in any discussion around cable, and one of the questions posed at the first session on the first day cited comments John Malone made about how the “cable industry has been very slow and very uneven” with its TV Everywhere effort, which has created “this window of opportunity” for companies like Netflix.

Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus disagreed: “I just don’t buy that argument,” especially when companies like Netflix are just piggybacking off cable’s systems, he said.

But the fact that Netflix was nowhere to be found at the show, either at the session or on the exhibition floor, is telling. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which runs the Cable Show, says companies such as Netflix have appeared at the conference in the past to participate on panels, but they’ve never been a big presence.

As to why they’re not here, “you’d have to ask them,” Brian Dietz, a spokesman for the association, says. “But we’re always open to it.”

Many of the cable networks, such as Turner (which owns CNN and TNT), Fox News, Discovery Communications and AMC are also here, partly to show off their programming, but mostly to take meetings with the cable industry. Privately, some of them have said the conference would be more useful if the satellite and telephone companies were also here, as well as the Netflixes and Apples of the world.

The Cable Show has also gotten smaller, Dietz admits. There are fewer major announcements at the annual convention and there’s less glitz. Unlike SXSW or CES, the Cable Show is a quiet conference with plenty of executives in dark suits trawling the uncrowded exhibition floor with rolling luggage in tow. It strikes observers as very much a trade show, a business-to-business affair.

Another noteworthy aspect to this year’s convention is the heavy presence of Time Warner Cable branding appearing on banners and signage throughout the hall, which makes sense since it’s one of the main cable providers in Los Angeles.

But if the Comcast merger is approved by regulators, Time Warner Cable won’t exist next year, turning the Cable Show into the Comcast show. And maybe next year the conference will take place in Philadelphia. Who knows whether Netflix or Apple or anyone else from Silicon Valley will bother to make the trip.

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