The newly dubbed Imagine Park is intended to evoke Beantown's famous public gathering spot, the Boston Common, centered around an amphitheater-style stage area.
The exhibit will be just over 11,000 square feet, a little more than double last year, said Mark Bell, NCTA vice president of industry affairs. Imagine Park's bubble-shaped icon design motif is meant to imply trees, helium balloons or thought bubbles.
In general, Bell said, "we reprised the format because it works. We have the desire to elevate the level of content so it's closer to breaking news."
Imagine Park's "TV-talk-show-style" sessions will occur over the course of the Cable Show's three days.
The format for the stage presentations will be "un-panels," according to Bell. They're constructed as if they were 45-minute shows, with guests coming on stage to share "10 impactful minutes," he said.
"It's an alternative to the panel format," Bell added. "You can come in and out, and it's more interactive than the traditional panels. It's small hits and high-impact."
Topics for the presentations are to include "Speed to Market: Enabling Faster Innovation Cycles," moderated by Multichannel News columnist Leslie Ellis (Monday, May 21, 12:45 - 1:30 p.m.); as well as second-screen apps; next-generation user interfaces, including speech recognition and gesture controls; and cable's energy-efficiency initiatives.
Another segment, "Pushing Products and Platforms to New Levels" (Monday, 1:30 - 2:15 p.m.) will explore using cable services in new ways. For example, executives from UnitedHealth Group will discuss using video-on-demand in healthcare.
In addition, Imagine Park will host a live debate, produced with Halogen TV, that will pit the Harvard University and Columbia University debate teams on the theme, "Is Cable Doing Enough to Keep Millennials in the Tent" (Tuesday, May 22, from 3 - 3:45 p.m.).
The point of the program is to highlight forward-thinking cable industry initiatives across different areas, NCTA's Bell said. The Imagine Park exhibit "will draw traffic, but that's not why we're doing it," Bell said. "We're doing it for the few hundred people in the audience there, but it's also for the few thousand people watching streaming on the Web."
Imagine Park also will be a place for show-goers to unwind. The exhibit will have food carts and café seating. The exhibit will be situated next to CableNET, the technology showcase area hosted by CableLabs returning for its 20th year.
"We'll have plenty of robust Wi-Fi, hot dogs, coffee and thought-provoking discussion," Bell said.
While last year's Park was focused entirely on the live stage, NCTA this year has added three features that "serve to underscore the Imagine Park theme," Bell said: The App Pond, Startup Alley and the Imagine App Challenge.
The App Pond, loosely based on the Frog Pond in the Boston Common, will let visitors walk around and play with tablets and smartphone apps from different operators and programmers. The App Pond will have about 30 apps, Bell said.
Another new component is the Imagine App Challenge, a live, 48-hour "hack-a-thon" with five teams of college students from Stanford, Pace, Wellesley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Babson and Rutgers. Each group will have 48 hours to develop an idea and build a prototype app, with NCTA footing the bill for travel and hotel expenses.
"The point of all this is really to invite smart kids in, let them learn how our industry works, and just see what comes of it," Bell said, adding, "It's not for entrepreneurs looking for funding -- it's an idea injector."
NCTA is producing the Imagine App Challenge in partnership with the not-for-profit Application Developers Alliance. A panel of judges will award cash prizes to the teams that build top three functioning apps, with the winners to be announced during in an Imagine Park segment Wednesday, May 23, at 12:15 p.m.
Finally, Startup Alley will feature a group of Boston-area startups working on interesting new projects in the TV and broadband marketplace. The selected companies will deliver presentations on stage Monday, May 21, from 4:30 - 5 p.m.
NCTA is pitching paid sponsorships in conjunction with Imagine Park, ranging from $5,000 for the App Challenge and Startup Alley to $20,000 to host the Monday evening reception for the Spring Technical Forum.
However, according to Bell, the two dozen or so presentations are not paid for. Those were selected from among almost 50 submissions by a committee, which took the liberty to invite interesting speakers who were not in the mix.
"The point is to shine a bright light on innovation in the cable industry and give the world a front-row seat to that," Bell said.
The App Pond will feature self-guided tours of more than 30 apps from the following companies: Bright House Networks; Comcast; C-SPAN; Discovery Communications; Disney and ESPN Media Networks; EPIX; Fox; GLDS - Great Lakes Data Systems; HBO; Itaas; Sales Graphics Corp.; SeaChange International; Scripps Networks Interactive; Showtime Networks; The Smithsonian; Time Warner Cable; Turner Broadcasting; and Viacom Media Networks.