Cable operators who feared that the FCC might mandate a la carte TV pricing, or restrict companies’ ability to charge broadband customers based on how much they use the Internet, probably felt comforted by comments that two of the three current FCC members made today at the annual Cable Show. Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel indicated that she’s reluctant to promote a la carte — a key part of a bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain. “Consumer practices are changing,” Rosenworcel says. “The ways that they access content are different today than they were even a year ago.” As a result, if there’s pressure for change it’s “going to be driven by consumers and not necessarily by legislation or regulation.” Her Republican colleague, Ajit Pai, added that people may be wasting their breath if they talk about regulations that might affect whether broadband providers base their pricing on how much bandwidth a consumer uses. “It’s a commonly accepted aspect of the consumer experience in this country in virtually every other field — the more you consume of something the more you should pay,” he says. What’s more, “the FCC’s authority here is relatively limited.”
The multimedia celebrity — in her new role as Chief Creative Officer of NUVOtv — spoke in broad terms at the cable industry confab this morning about plans for this summer to reignite the English-language network …
Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt, cable’s Jeremiah when it comes to the industry’s rising prices, appeared more worried than ever today — and still out of step with his colleagues — when he discussed the issue with Wall Street analysts at the annual Cable Show taking place this week in DC. “People are starting to pay attention to the fact that the multichannel TV package, the big package which is in 90% of the homes, is starting to get too expensive for lower-income people,” he said. Broadcast networks, sports channels and others who have stepped up their demands for higher rates shouldn’t become cavalier just because “nothing is going to happen” with Sen. John McCain’s bill to promote a la carte pricing. (Britt added, “And he doesn’t think so either, by the way.”) The bill is “just the beginning of it. It would behoove the whole industry including the content companies who are all crowing about their pricing power to pay attention because it will come to some end that we may not like if we all keep behaving the way we are.” It was hard to find others at the industry love fest who’d publicly agree.
While Comcast talks up the virtues of its new, high powered set top boxes, Time Warner Cable used this week’s Cable Show to showcase a different approach: It will launch an app for Samsung Smart …
Cable operators seem to have finally realized that their clunky set-top boxes and user interfaces are hurting them as they increasingly compete with Silicon Valley’s slick-looking TV devices and services. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts used his annual presentation at The Cable Show, taking place this week in DC, to announce that his company will introduce a set-top box, called XI3, that’s four times faster and three times smaller than conventional boxes — and this fall will roll out an operating system, called X2, that offers “a seamless experience” to navigate a TV set and digital devices. It will provide six guides — for general listings, kids, movies, sports, personalized recommendations, and upcoming shows based on the user’s interests. Movie listings will include Rotten Tomatoes scores and TV shows in the guide will indicate the Twitter buzz measured in tweets per hour. There’ll be a button to call up the last nine channels watched. The company also added features to help about 20% of the population that has a disability. For example, visually impaired people can receive audio feedback telling them what’s going on when they push a button on the remote. The service also will accommodate spoken search commands.
The cable initiative to stream any TV show, anytime, and anywhere remains spotty and confusing — and is progressing slowly — execs acknowledged in a panel on the subject today at the Cable Show in D.C. Thus far “it’s not a success,” says Fox Networks’ Mike Biard. NBCUniversal’s Ron Lamprecht rated the progress at no more than a 5 out of 10. There’s no turning back, though. “We see our consumers expecting that our content be everywhere,” he says. “There really isn’t any other choice. We have to be there.” But the industry faces a gauntlet of negotiations before it can hope to provide a service that will look the same across all TV networks, cable providers, and technology platforms. For example, Watch ESPN — the sports channel’s TV Everywhere service — “is almost exactly like what you see on ESPN, but there are blackouts because they don’t have the underlying rights” to all the games, Comcast Cable’s Marcien Jenckes says. Consumers also will find different shows when they use a network’s app compared with a cable company’s, and whether they’re used in or outside the home. “In a TNT application within the home you’re accessing TV Everywhere, but in an Xfinity application it could be [just the cable company's] VOD” programming, says Turner Broadcasting’s Jeremy Legg. “Explain to a consumer why they can get TNT in the home but not out of the home.”
Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes and News Corp COO Chase Carey took the message to The Cable Show this morning, urging attendees to jump on the Internet video bandwagon — even if it means relaxing their grip on the relationship with their customers. “We’ve just got to do it faster,” Bewkes says about TV Everywhere, the service that enables subscribers to watch TV shows on mobile devices. Carey agreed that “it should go faster,” adding that “we get too hung up on protecting the rules of the past.” That was a subtle swipe at pay TV distributors who covet their gatekeeper role. Many fear that they could lose control once subscribers begin to use an iPad or other device to access shows directly from programmers — without a need for the operator’s set top box or on-screen guide. ”We’ve got to find a way to make all of these experiences easier to use and more accessible,” Carey says. “That requires us to work together.” Bewkes agreed. “Let consumers use the interfaces they want,” he says. “You’ll still have your subscriber relationship. We can’t develop the best, world-class interfaces at the scale that a distribution company has. Silicon Valley, the Internet industry, is a global industry and that’s what they do. We should harness that….Don’t try to hold that back. Consumers won’t allow it.”
That was the provocative question three newscasters debated this morning at the cable industry’s annual convention on the eve of what MSNBC‘s Chris Matthews predicted will be “the most exciting political season we’ve ever had” — in part because of the growing importance of cable news. As you might imagine, the boisterous host of Hardball With Chris Matthews sucked up most of the oxygen in the Cable Show panel that also included CNN‘s John King and Univision‘s Maria Elena Salinas. She lamented that people “now have designer news. They want to listen to people they agree with.” That’s dangerous, she says, because “they don’t know the difference between a news person and a commentator.” King says that while “there’s nothing wrong with advocacy journalism, there’s nothing wrong with objective journalism, too.” But Matthews says viewers understand what they’re watching. For example, when Fox News bills itself as “fair and balanced,” its audience knows that the slogan is “ironic and fun loving and they’re in on the joke.” He contrasted today’s sharp-edged approach to the old days when “people like Andy Rooney were always with the (government’s) embedded thinking…. Without cable it’s just network thinking and embedded thinking which is dangerous for democracy.”
Broadcasters received moral support this morning from cable in the looming battle against the new Auto Hop feature on Dish Network‘s Hopper DVRs, which enables the machines to automatically recognize and skip over ads on …
If there was a cable industry in the Bizarro World then it might have an annual trade show like the one that will take place Monday to Wednesday in Boston. For starters, only someone from the planet in Superman comics where everything is backward — police commit crimes, sanitation workers throw garbage around, etc. — would think execs might enjoy trying to book a hotel room in Boston in the middle of college graduation season. What’s even stranger, though, is that some of cable’s biggest champions won’t be there, but some of its most nettlesome adversaries will. No-shows start with the King of Cable, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts — who lately has used the annual event to evangelize the latest gee-whiz technologies. Also, for the first time in memory Viacom’s MTV Networks won’t have a presence on the trade show floor. It couldn’t justify the expense at a time when cable operators are more interested in dumping channels than in paying for new ones. Others seem to feel the same way: The show will have more than 200 exhibitors, down from about 277 last year, and they’ll take up 120,000 square feet, down from 140,000.
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.
Some of the top executives in cable fear that the anemic economy will soon take a bite out of an industry that has weathered previous downturns without a problem. At a panel this morning for the opening session of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s National Cable Show in Chicago, several members of the audience applauded when Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt said operators should begin to offer a low-priced service with fewer channels than they have in their expanded basic cable packages. “There clearly is a growing underclass of consumers that can’t afford (cable service) and they want it,” Britt said. Even though “the economics make it difficult” for channels that would be left out, if Netflix’s low-priced package of TV reruns ”makes consumers not want to buy the big package that we’re selling, then that’s a threat to all of us.” Cox Communications President Pat Esser says he’s also concerned that the poorest 40% of the population barely has enough money to pay for cable, although he says it hasn’t resulted in much cord-cutting yet. But Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman seems unconvinced. He says the country “lived through the worst recession and the last thing people cut back on is TV.”
The cable industry’s annual trade show kicks off tomorrow in Chicago, which means over the next few days we’ll hear a lot of tech-related announcements like this one from Comcast and Skype. The companies say that Comcast customers will ”soon” be able to make Skype calls via their TV sets even while they continue to watch a show. Here’s the release:
PHILADELPHIA and LUXEMBOURG – June 14, 2011 – Comcast Corporation (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Skype today announced that the companies have entered into a strategic partnership that will enable Comcast customers to communicate with family and friends through HD video calling on their television. They will soon be able to make and receive Skype video calls from their television, whether their friends and family use Skype on their home TVs, PCs, compatible smartphones or tablets.
Through this arrangement, Comcast customers will be able to experience widescreen HD video calling that is immersive and natural. With Skype, they can share in the excitement of a big game, a birthday party or holiday, a bedtime story, or a casual conversation with loved ones, and have the ability to communicate with hundreds of millions of Skype users across the globe. As real-time video communication becomes a more integral part of the way people connect, Skype and Comcast will bring a simple, affordable, high-quality video calling experience to millions of homes.