Cable Stresses Cooperation


Cooperation is key. So maintained chairmen and CEOs from various factions of the cable industry as they acknowledged their reliance on each other in a multiplatform, bundled world at an NCTA panel in Atlanta.

Asserting that cable is a healthy and growing medium, the panelists stressed that the key to their respective successes was sharing a symbiotic relationship, exploiting each other's services to grow their overall business.

"The object is not to fight over the slice of the pie ... but to show that the pie is going to grow," said Time Warner Chairman/CEO Dick Parsons. 

Parsons, along with Comcast Chairman/CEO Brian Roberts; Disney Media Networks co-chair and Disney-ABC TV Group President Anne Sweeney; Cisco Systems President/CEO John Chambers; Sprint Nextel President/CEO Gary Forsee; and Motorola Chairman/CEO Edward Zander, sat on the panel titled View from the Top: Leadership Perspectives.

Parsons compared the cable industry to the tech world, distinguishing cable's cooperation from the dog-eat-dog tactics of software giant Microsoft, which gobbled up 90% of the market and led competitors to fight for the scraps.

"The world we come from is, there's a big pie, hopefully it's growing and there are a lot of players in there," he said. "You can't own everything yourself. World domination is not an option, it's not even a vision. In the cable industry, you partner with people who do the pieces well and you share the prosperity and you share the growth and everybody does well."

Bundling various services—Internet, phone, TV—is imperative for operators and programmers alike to set the industry apart from the telcos, the panelists agreed. Roberts, whose company just announced a video-on-demand (VOD)/Internet horror channel in partnership with Sony, boldly asserted that all cable operators will have double-digit EBITDA growth this year as a result of the variety of products each is now offering. 

"If we didn't have a new product to sell right now, we could just sit here and be doom and gloom," Roberts said. "There's never been more new products to sell, and that's lifting our boat big time ... it's a great time for this business."

Cable's new products—and its efforts to bundle them together seamlessly for the consumer—set the industry apart from its competitors, according to Roberts, who highlighted Comcast's 6,000 shows on VOD as an example. "They're putting Ma Bell back together, but they haven't actually got new products."

All were also in agreement on the importance of making the various technologies easy for consumers to access and understand. On the heels of announcing that Disney-ABC would launch a two-month experiment, streaming free, ad-supported episodes of key series online, Sweeney repeatedly stressed her company's focus on the consumer. She noted 40% of "millenials"—those between the ages of 8 and 27—use between five and eight different technologies, many of them simultaneously, before going to bed.

"It's about recognizing that none of us can live in a world—and we really haven't lived in a world—of one business model," she said. "This is about the consumer and how the consumer is going to use this technology."

Just how the consumer will prefer to access content may remain unclear, but as the various technologies evolve, one goal for service providers is to not just offer content everywhere—TV, phones, Internet—but to do so in a way that makes moving from one to the other as simple as possible for consumers.

"The consumer, for the last 20 years, has been bogged down with trying to be a technologist," said Zander. "They don't want to be a technologist—they just want their content."