It’s official: CTAM is a cable association. It’s not like telcos and DBS operators will be barred from CTAM events, like this week’s Summit. It’s just that the association’s focus officially has shifted back to the MSOs and their programming and vendor affiliates, thanks to a June vote by CTAM’s board that officially changed the organization’s bylaws. CTAM president and CEO Char Beales downplayed the importance of the move, saying it was merely an attempt to "codify what is clearly CTAM’s current practice." The change means that CTAM now has come full circle since its early days as a society of cable marketers. Launched in 1976 as a vehicle to allow marketers in the fledgling cable industry to share best practices, the organization faced a crossroads about 20 years later as both DBS and telco providers began to make inroads into the marketplace—and into CTAM. Concerned that the presence of marketers from competitors like DBS and the telcos would have a chilling effect on the exchange of strategic information, CTAM’s leadership quickly adopted a new focus: marketing education. Soon after that strategic shift, the cable industry started to lean on CTAM for marketing leadership, beginning with the industrywide On-Time Guarantee initiative and culminating with the recent product category campaign, Only Cable Can. At the same time, telcos proved to be less ready for prime time than was originally thought, while DBS providers failed to engage in any CTAM activities outside of its handful of annual conferences. Some of CTAM’s cable-centric campaigns have caused skittishness among programmers. The Only Cable Can initiative, in particular, has the potential to alienate programmers’ DBS and telco affiliates. Recently, CTAM began positioning itself as a meeting ground for cable’s marketers and technologists, and took the lead in exploring such relatively new and lucrative businesses as video on demand, while bringing together key industry players to strategize on how to maximize VOD’s revenue-generating potential. That confluence of factors, combined with Beales’ unique ability to read the tea leaves, led to the decision earlier this year to admit to the world what those on the inside already knew—that, like NCTA, CTPAA and others, CTAM was, is and probably always will remain a cable organization. "This industry just keeps changing," says Beales. "And that’s our job; to keep our finger on where things are headed." CableWORLD: Was this a conscious change or, like so many things in this industry, did it just evolve? Char Beales: It was conscious. If you look at the tag line that we adopted about two years ago, that said it all—CTAM: How Cable Grows. CW: But how do you reconcile the members from the competing platforms? Beales: Look back a few years ago, when DBS was ramping up and the telcos were recruiting cable people. We thought there would be more marketers and more prospects. But what we found was that a lot of those people didn’t stay at those companies very long. And those that did had no one standing behind them. Those companies just didn’t see CTAM as their organization. They saw value in the conference, but they never took an active role on committees or in the leadership here. And we still don’t have many members from those companies. That was a big wake-up call for us, and we decided at that point that we were going to take the word "cable" in our name seriously. CW: Are you ready to close ranks to keep the competitors out? Beales: We’ve codified our practice of focusing on the interests of the cable companies, but we’ll still welcome anyone to our conferences. CW: What does NCTA feel about your change? Beales: We notified them. And, of course, in NCTA EVP David Krone we have an NCTA person on our board. But they didn’t have a strong opinion on it. I think they probably felt, as we do, that this was simply a codification of our current practice and was bringing us back in line with our original articles of incorporation. CW: Isn’t it your sense that the programmers will have to step lightly, since CTAM is no longer representing DBS or the telcos? Beales: I don’t see that as a change. Our programmers always knew that when they came to work on a CTAM committee they would be interacting with cable people. And that if they were to meet any DBS affiliates at a CTAM event, it would be at the Summit. CW: Won’t this change mute the exchange of ideas at the Summit? Beales: I don’t think so, at least not any more than things have already been muted. As long as the press has been coming the exchange of ideas has been greatly muted. In fact, it was muted in 1992 when DirecTV launched. That’s just the way of the world these days. But that said, just like at NCTA, there will be some spirited dialogue happening. There always is. It’s just that no one is telling secrets anymore. CW: What are the issues that are front and center for CTAM? Beales: We’re focused right now on serving the companies. We’ve got the On-Demand Consortium, the Broadband Consortium; we’re working on customer care and commercial services. There are a number of things that we’re doing that are specifically designed to help our members’ companies, or at least to help them work together in those areas. Then, of course, we’ve got our traditional projects like the Mark Awards, which will once again be a sit-down affair with Rosie Perez hosting and the CMOs presenting the awards. And then there’s the Summit and all the research we’re conducting. So we’ve got a lot going on. CW: Speaking of the Summit, you’re down to one major conference a year. Aren’t you putting all your eggs in one basket? Beales: The word I’m using is "hybrid." We felt that digital and broadband products, which at one time had their own conference, are so mainstream that they needed to be part of the Summit. So we now have a hybrid conference with multiple tracks. It makes so much more sense.