Movie and cable lobbyists say that they ““welcome further examination of the reasons behind societal violence” – the rationale behind the bill to be marked up at the Senate Commerce Committee today that would require the National Academy of Sciences to study the impact that violent videos and games have on kids. The bill from committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. VA) is a response to last year’s Sandy Hook school shootings. But the MPAA and National Cable & Telecommunications Association pointedly note that while they will be “productive partners in the conversation about culture in America,” they already try to help parents to make “appropriate family viewing and entertainment decisions.” The trade groups cite their work with TV and film ratings and public service announcements. Today’s statement seems more defensive than the National Association of Broadcasters was when it said that it “supports” the bill, in part because it might make sense of the current “conflicting scientific data” about the connection between media and violence. The NAB says it hopes that “greater civility can be restored to society and that incidences of societal violence can be reduced.” Rockefeller says that he’ll also ask the FCC and FTC to take a fresh look at media violence. “Major corporations, …
The apparent dig at Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-verse and Google Fiber was made this morning by National Cable & Telecommunications Association CEO Michael Powell in the kick off to the trade group’s annual confab, taking place this year in Washington, D.C. “We don’t cherry pick the most lucrative customers,” the former FCC chairman says. “We serve everyone in our footprint.” Many here believe that cable execs will use the industry gathering, no longer a hotbed of dealmaking, to burnish cable’s image before lawmakers and their staffs. “Cable is on an innovation tear,” Powell said. With its Internet services as well as TV, operators are “the conduit for our future.” Those who say that the U.S. lags other countries in broadband speeds and subscriptions are making “false comparisons,” he says. Unlike, say, France or Latvia “we are home to 316M people.” Powell added that the cable industry spent $200B since the mid 1990s to build its broadband infrastructure. “It was risky and truthfully, not everyone was a believer. There’s much to believe in now.” And while broadband “speeds have skyrocketed, the price to consumer has not,” he says, due in part to “the government’s light touch.” Powell added that “the cable industry has always (supported) an open Internet” so it can “compete aggressively but always fairly.”
The new voluntary agreement appears to delay the cable industry’s previous plan to reduce the amount of energy used by set-top boxes. Last year the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said that “by the end of 2013″ at least 90% of the set-top boxes that its members buy and deploy will comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star 3.0 standards — making them 45% more efficient than most current models. But the NCTA and Consumer Electronics Association now say that they have a broader agreement that will meet the goal with boxes purchased and deployed “after 2013.” Whenever it happens, the groups predict that consumers will save about $1.5B a year with the phase-out inefficient boxes that the National Resources Defense Council refers to as “energy vampires.” The new agreement takes effect on January 1 and includes satellite companies and video services from AT&T and Verizon along with cable. Participants collectively serve more than 90M households. In addition to the terms affecting new boxes, cable companies say they’ll download “light sleep” capabilities to more than 10M existing DVRs. In 2013 telco companies also will offer “light sleep” while satellite providers offer “automatic power down” in 90% of the boxes purchased and deployed.
The cable industry is livid today over a new FCC order that makes it harder for pay TV distributors to mess around with independently owned channels. Regulators clarified the rules of engagement called for by the 1992 Cable Act to resolve contract disputes that channels have with cable and satellite companies. One provision particularly infuriates cable: The FCC says channels can’t be interrupted during a fight; for example, Cablevision customers lost Food Network and HGTV in early 2010 when Scripps wanted to raise the price for its services. A standstill order would keep existing contract terms in place while the FCC resolves the matter. The agency particularly wants to prevent cable operators from using their near-monopoly power in TV distribution to favor channels that they own — or extort channel owners to sell equity in order to guarantee carriage. Public interest advocates welcome the change. “This will promote diversity in cable TV offerings by insuring that independent cable channels have a shot at getting carriage on large cable systems” says Media Access Project policy director Andrew Jay Schwartzman. But former FCC Chairman Michael Powell — now CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association — says the order shows “little regard for the limits of agency authority or constitutional rights, and a disturbing lack of appreciation of the potential impact of government intervention on consumers or the marketplace.”
Cable Show: Comcast CEO Brian Roberts Says Super-Fast Broadband Services Will Make TV More “Relevant”
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts closed the annual National Cable Show this morning by giving executives a glimpse of their future transmitting TV shows via the broadband cloud. He says that some of his systems over the next several years will offer transmission speeds of more than 1 gigabite per second — fast enough to download an entire 39-episode season of 30 Rock in 1 minute and 39 seconds. “We are demonsrating a whole new level of speed,” he says. ”It’s where the future of broadband is headed.” The demo came as he unveiled some of the features of his company’s Xfinity TV service. The most distinguishing feature for consumers is that it enables viewers to search for movies and shows much they way they would via a search engine such as Google. It also can make recomendations based on data from a user’s Facebook account. “The guide becomes what your friends tell you to watch, not the linear alphabet,” Roberts says. Calling cloud-based TV a “game changer,” Roberts says that “we need to make the television feel as relevant as all of these other products” such as smartphones and iPad tablet computers.
Hollywood is very much on the minds of cable executives meeting in Chicago this week at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s annual trade show. Introducing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for his welcoming remarks, Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav said that “in our industry he’s known as Ari’s brother” — referring to WME co-CEO Ari Emanuel. The mayor picked up the theme by offering a mock apology on behalf of his family. “You know him as an agent,” he said. “We know him as a brother. We thought we got the worse end of the deal.” He said that when HBO introduced its series Entourage, Ari wanted to know what Rahm thought of the Ari Gold character who’s based on the super agent. “I like Ari Gold more than I like you,” Rahm says he replied.
Ad sales are improving for cable but they may not pop as much as many in the industry had hoped, according to information presented at this morning’s opening session of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s annual trade show. ”The jury’s still out on what the economic outlook will be in the second half of the year,” Horizon Media CEO Bill Koenigsberg said. Although cable execs say that unit prices for their upfront sales are running about 11% higher than last year, Koenigsberg says “clients now are cautious. I don’t think the barometer of the upfront is a forecast for the future.” Initiative’s Tim Spengler added that he’s “cautiously optimistic” and has seen “no signs of a pullback yet.” The ad execs said that clients may warm to cable once they have a clearer sense of how many people watch their spots, what screens they they watch them on, and how viewers respond to the commercials. “Measurement is not keeping up with the technology,” Mediavest’s Bill Tucker said. “Getting data across screens is the new frontier, and we’re not there yet.” Koenigsberg says that in about six months the industry should have “a true consistent measurement that we can trade on.”
The advertisers followed a panel about the 2012 election on which President Obama political adviser David Axelrod said that broadcasters, especially local TV stations, will continue to receive the lion’s share of campaign ad dollars.
Wall Street analysts warned cable operators on Tuesday that they’d better fix their clunky user interfaces and lousy consumer service if they want to avoid a showdown with Internet and technology powers such as Google and Apple. The big threat “isn’t really Netflix. It’s something we haven’t seen yet,” Citigroup Investment Research’s Jason Bazinet said in a panel discussion about the industry’s financial prospects at the National Cable Show in Chicago. He raised one possibility that has grabbed many people’s imaginations recently — that Apple might design a TV set that would work with programming from a pay TV rival such as DirecTV. “That plays to Apple’s strength, which is not your strength, which is the operating system,” Bazinet said, calling cable’s user experience “a Rube Goldberg contraption.” Morgan Stanley’s Benjamin Swinburne says that although the Street is less concerned than it was a few months ago about Netflix becoming a major competitor, “that doesn’t mean what Netflix has done couldn’t be done by someone with a much bigger check book.” Deutsche Bank Securities’ Douglas Mitchelson also urged cable operators to improve the user experience before Internet services have a chance to establish themselves. He says that investors also are “pretty nervous” about the rising prices that cable operators are paying for programming — especially now that broadcast networks are demanding cash from systems that rebroadcast signals from their local stations.
Now we know why Michael Powell never met a media merger he didn’t like. The chairman of the FCC under George W. Bush (and son of Colin Powell) replaces Kyle McSlarrow at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. McSlarrow last week left the trade group to became Comcast’s man in Washington. From the release:
As CEO for NCTA, Powell will serve as the cable industry’s leading advocate, spokesman, and representative in its relationship with the U.S. Congress, the Administration, the FCC, and other federal agencies. He will also manage the staff, programs, and initiatives of the Association. And, he will serve as an important strategic voice on the direction of the industry. Powell currently is a senior advisor with Providence Equity Partners and Honorary Co-Chair of Broadband for America. He begins his tenure at NCTA on April 25.