2011 NCTA Show: To Remain Relevant, Cable Must Be Everywhere

The tone at the start of the 60th-annual National Cable Telecommunications Association (NCTA) show, taking place this week in Chicago, was overwhelmingly positive. With more consumers watching cable channels than broadcast networks several nights a week, now is a great moment for cable. The opening general session of the show brought together a wealth of industry leaders to discuss cable’s role in today’s marketplace, including how content providers can stay relevant in the multiplatform present and move into the future.

Cable Powers the American Dream
Michael Powell, president/CEO of the NCTA, opened the general session by recognizing cable’s ability, and responsibility, to improve communications for all Americans.

“Cable helps power the American dream, giving our citizens the tools to enjoy the benefits of the technological revolution,” he said. “We believe we are an invaluable partner in helping realize the nation’s ambitions for the information age. Cable has always believed it can make tomorrow better than the present.”

Although it was always hoped that television would make America’s democracy better, Powell explained, it was cable that truly opened the window on democracy with the creation of CSPAN. He traced a history of innovations in cable, including time-shifting with digital video recorders; bundled offerings of cable and telephone services; and, most recently, the “supersizing” of the Internet.

“Cable led the way in pushing aside the slow, squawking world of dial-up connections and replaced it with the always-on experience we now take for granted,” Powell said. “We were broadband before broadband was cool.”

Still, rather than patting the industry on the back for a job well done, he added, now is no time for the industry to rest on its laurels. The evolving technological landscape will mean more ambiguity and anxiety moving forward, so the cable industry must take a lead role in educating policy leaders and consumers. Borrowing a sports term, a good defense, he said, is a good offense.

“You need to be everywhere if you hope to remain relevant,” Powell said. “Our networks will be powerful, personal, and portable. Standing still is simply not an option.”

Make It Personal
According to presidents and CEOs of some of the nation’s largest content providers and cable distributors, the battle to remain relevant requires those companies to work closely to create a personalized experience for the consumer.

“I think it’s all about a personalized experience,” said Neil Smit, president of Comcast Cable Communications. “It’s less about TV or Internet and more about a common user interface that’s personalized to me and can stay with me through different platforms. Let’s let them view it how they want to view it.”

Added Glenn Britt, chairman/CEO of Time Warner Cable, “I think the key for all of us is to keep changing with the technology. We have to offer consumers the features that they want, and use technology to do that.”

While some might point to companies like Netflix and AppleTV as pushing the cable industry into the murky territory of the music industry, Jeff Bewkes, chairman/CEO of Time Warner, was quick to ask the panel and the audience to cheer up.

“It’s morning in the cable industry,” he said. “The reason you can get things on tablets and smartphones is because of the infrastructure that was led by people in this room. We have to put it on demand and give it a very good interface, because that’s what the Internet industry is bringing.”

Innovation From Teamwork
Philippe Dauman, president/CEO of Viacom, noted that the content side and distribution side of cable have a long history of working side by side to develop innovations. Moving forward in a multiplatform world, both sides must work to serve consumers while meeting business objectives that will pay for the content.

“If we are ad-supported, we need to have a measurement system in place so that viewing on a device at home gets measured and we can sell ads,” Dauman said. “That’s the currency. We need collectively to make sure that Nielsen starts taking those measurements.”

Chase Carey, deputy chairman/president/COO of News Corp., said that the cable industry has to do more, and is doing more, to serve fans everywhere. Noting three sports properties — Big Ten Network To Go, Speed2, and Fox Soccer Plus — Carey said News Corp. is making it a priority to figure out how to create a richer experience with each of its franchises.


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