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.” READ MORE »
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.