NCTA Co-Chairs: Cable Must Keep Innovating, DifferentiatingNeil Smit and Phil Kent talk sub declines, tech, WiFi and the pace of TV Everywhere 5/21/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern
As they prepared to tag-team the opening session at the National
Cable & Telecommunications Association convention
May 21-23 in Boston, co-chairs Neil Smit, president/COO of
Comcast Cable, and Phil Kent, chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting,
teamed up for an interview with B&C/Multichannel News about stemming
video subscriber declines, differentiating service, keeping up with
a mobile world and delivering on diversity. An edited transcript follows.
Cable operators seem to be stemming video subscriber
declines, but how do you get back to positive territory?
Neil Smit: We need to compete better with improved products, and
thatâs what we are focused on. Now that our major platform investments
are complete, we are able to innovate at a faster rate and offer
more content, on more platforms, and more devices. We need to
continue to focus on major new product innovations coupled with
better customer service, and focused marketing and retention efforts
across the board.
How concerned are you about cord-cutting?
Phil Kent: I pay close attention to all aspects of consumer behavior,
but I try to maintain perspective. There are a lot of good reasons for
changing patterns in usage. But with television still commanding 98%
of the viewing and technology offering more ways and places to watch,
our focus is on offering products and platforms that make it an even
more attractive and valuable proposition than it already is.
What technology should the cable industry be most excited
about, and why?
Smit: We are excited about the opportunities that the cloud opens up
for faster development and new products across our platforms.
Weâre using the cloud-based delivery in our new X1 platform to give
us flexibility to bring new features to the guide and new apps to consumers
faster. We can update our new X1 guide in days, which previously
would have taken weeks or months in the traditional delivery.
This technology enables us to fundamentally change the user experience
and enable better search and discovery, social networking, recommendations
and new cross-platform features across multiple screens,
at home and on the go.
How important is mobility for cable, and is Wi-Fi the answer?
Smit: We live in a world that is more connected and mobile every day,
so mobility is clearly important to us.
Wi-Fi is a great value-add for consumers and will play an increasingly
important role in cableâs broadband offering. It provides consumers
more convenience with their devices and more freedom with the
content we offer. For us, our Verizon Wireless joint venture is a key
part of our strategy, as well as developing wireless apps that allow our
customers to access cross-platform features.
We are definitely looking to expand WiFi
offerings into the future.
What does the cable industry need to
do to boost adoption of TV Everywhere?
And speaking of which, why is Hulu
moving to an authentication model?
Kent: TV Everywhere is the fastest-moving
initiative in a generation in terms of concept
Iâm very pleased with how far weâve come in
such a short amount of time. Consumers and
the marketplace recognize that TV Everywhere
is a path to the future. To get there quickly, we
need simple authentication processes, more
content and committed partners.
We have momentum and early success; our
priority now should be socializing TV Everywhere
more aggressively via smart, consumerfocused
As for Hulu, we are not an owner so Iâm
not privy to the internal thinking about their
business model. But our perspective is that
authentication makes business sense and is good for consumers.
Are cable operators video distributors in the ISP business, or
are ISPs getting out of the traditional video market?
Smit: Iâm not sure there needs to be a specific label. We aggregate and
curate content and bring it to our customers across multiple platforms,
and weâll continue to add more content and more platforms all the time.
More than 85% of Americans subscribe to a multichannel video provider.
We also offer some of the fastest Internet speeds in the country.
So I like our position, no matter what the label.
Can you give us a preview of the key industry opportunities
and objectives that you will be emphasizing at the NCTA show?
Kent: I think itâs important to talk about the quality and range of cable
content as the foundation of our industryâs continuing success. Regardless
of the platform they choose, people are passionate about content
they love. Iâm interested in a discussion about how we distinguish and
differentiate ourselves through our programming, and how our choices
are evolving and shaping the consumer experience.
What is the state of diversity in
the cable industry and how can it be improved?
The programming our industry creates and presents is more diverse, and is more
interesting and meaningful to diverse audiences all the time. But our ranks do
not reflect the diversity of the consumers we serve. There are any number of
factors we can point to to explain why cable television is not more inclusive
in front of and behind the camera and around the conference table, but the
bottom line is that we can do better. Consumers expect it, our employees want
it and our business depends on it.
What does "innovation" mean for
cable beyond the buzzword?
The same as it always has: thinking and being ahead; taking the risks necessary
in order to lead; putting the priorities and mindset of consumers first; and
creating products you can be proud of.
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