From live appearances by Karen Valentine and Don Knotts to televised ones of the old "Password" game show and classic sports moments, nostalgia met high tech yesterday at the Baltimore Convention Center, site of a three-day gathering of the cable television industry.
No doubt, few TV viewers in the days of "Room 222," and "The Andy Griffith Show" ever imagined the array of programs and channels served up by today's cable TV -- a forum for shopping, choosing movies, checking the weather. Perhaps even fewer guessed at consumer interest in oldies -- both television and film.
But nostalgia figured prominently in many of more than 100 cable offerings displayed on monitors at the 16th annual Atlantic Cable Show, as both established and upstart networks vied for spots with cable operators.
Classic Sports Network celebrated the best moments of Joe Louis and Mickey Mantle. A variety show on the Nostalgia network featured Leslie Uggams and the Lennon Sisters in song and dance routines. And the Game Show Network featured original versions of "The Dating Game" and "To Tell the Truth," along with '90s-style interactive games.
Max Kipfer, general manager of Benchmark Communications, which serves 32,000 households in Loudoun County, Va., took a risk two years ago in adding the unproven, and at the time, independent Classic Sports Network, which was recently acquired by ESPN.
"We had limited channels available and knew it would appeal to some customers and not to others," Kipfer said. "But you go with your gut. The concept is great -- today it's a happening, tomorrow it's a classic."
Now, with Benchmark planning to expand from 85 to 110 channels, he was back at the cable show looking at the newest offerings, some of which he had never seen.
"Consumers want choice," he said. "They'll pay for choice and pay for quality. We look at channels that have strong programming backgrounds."
Bold, visual displays, most with multiple monitors running programs, attempted to capture the attention of cable affiliates and their employees. Many had built in conference rooms for meetings.
At a booth set up like a romantic Parisian candy shop with cafe tables, red roses and customized chocolate hearts, American Movie Classics promoted its new sister network, Romance Classics. The network, launched earlier this year, features contemporary romantic movies as well as programs about famous couples.
"We want to give affiliates or potential affiliates the chance to experience the brand," said Gemma Toner, senior vice president, strategic planning for the Eastern region. "There are lots and lots of new networks out there. But Romance is unique because it is targeted to women -- the one area so grossly under-served by cable."
Toner said she scheduled meetings with clients and potential clients during the three days in the booth's conference room, furnished with green velvet chairs and a chandelier.
"In some instances, we're hoping to sign an agreement or raise awareness," she said. "When we come to a show we can have five to seven meetings a day. There are so many cable operators here in one place that we want to make the most of the time."
A guitarist and keyboard player entertained crowds at the MuchMusic booth, an alternative music video network trying to go head to head with MTV and VH1 by filming its video jockeys live and targeting pop music listeners in the 18 to 34 age range. The toughest challenge in selling a relatively new channel?
"There are a bazillion of us," said Suzanne J. Rudloff, vice president for the Eastern region. "We're all out there competing for the same finite number of channels on cable."
And the format is often unfamiliar to cable operators. Often, said Joe Leonard, director of marketing for the Woodbury, N.Y., network, "they're not in our demographic range. It's not like selling them the golf channel -- most of them golf."
At shows like Atlantic Cable, sponsored by the Cable and Telecommunications Associations of New Jersey, New York, Maryland/Delaware/District of Colum- bia and Pennsylvania, "we get leads," Rudloff said, though she prefers to make her formal presentations at the operator's office. "It's a great opportunity for people to experience the product a little. You get to hit so many more people in three days than if I went on the road."
Now, she said, "The brand is just starting to catch on."
But even the well-known names, HBO, Disney, the Discovery Network, and NBC Cable -- promoting cable channels CNBC and MSNBC -- made sure to stake out spots on the convention center floor, knowing many distribution decisions are still made at the local level.
At a booth for Bravo and The Independent Film Channel, both of which will be offered in the Baltimore region by Comcast Cablevision starting Thursday, Bravo Vice President Ed Palluth put it this way: "This industry is changing rapidly. If you're not on board, you could be left behind."
Pub Date: 10/01/97