Michael Powell Weighs In

Internet and innovation, cable and regulation—all that and more is on NCTA leader’s mind on eve of INTX
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It’s a busy time for National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell. But he took time out from prepping for the NCTA’s annual INTX convention (May 16-18) to talk with B&C Washington bureau chief John Eggerton about the state of the industry, the FCC’s programming inquiry and how it feels to be running up against the upfronts and more. An edited transcript follows.

Going into this year’s INTX show, what is the state of the cable industry—or should we say ‘the internet and television industry?’

I think it is still quite vibrant by most measures. Financially these companies are relatively sound. They still work hard to find favor in their markets. They are innovating now at a pace we haven’t seen for decades and we should be encouraged by that, whether it be Comcast X1, or Cox’s decision—and by the way, a courageous decision—to put aside a solution they had developed, Contour, for an even better product.

There’s lots of innovation on internet services.

We are about to be on the cusp of delivering [1Gb capacity] to most of our footprint by the year 2017. While Google is still hopping from city to city at a very leisurely pace, we’re about to have the cable industry deliver that kind of capacity not to redlined, selective areas, but to every community. That is an exciting transformation on the internet side.

I don’t know how television could get any better. I sat at home and wasted an afternoon because I had to see Game of Thrones, and I had to see Silicon Valley, then I had to see Veep, then I had to catch up on Empire. TV is doing great, and that is exciting.

And by the way, we should be not just threatened, but really excited, by the opportunities presented by over-the-top streaming and the proliferation of smart devices. At the end of the day, we are the best curators of content in the country. All those platforms present opportunities to deliver that experience to consumers.

Speaking of programming opportunities, what is your view of the FCC Notice of Inquiry on access to distribution platforms?

The commission has always had a role both in some formal rules and obligations and in a regulatory objective of trying to advance diversity of voices, diversity of ownership, diversity of opportunity and participation, and I think that’s a legitimate thing for the commission to examine and see if there aren’t ways, through policy, to advance those interests.

Do you think INTX will be hurt by being up against the upfront ad presentations? Has that been an issue?

I don’t think so. We don’t like competing with the upfronts. We have had this situation on and off for a long time. It is not an entirely new thing.

The only thing I think is new is that everybody recognizes it. There has been a lot of talk about trying to find ways to accommodate that over the upcoming years. But registration is not down. Participation is not really down, so I don’t really see a huge blow as a consequence.

It’s tough because some people we would love to have there, and some companies we would love to have doing more there, when we get an overlap, are divided. They would have to be in two places at the same time. I understand that. So, to the extent that there are cases like that, it is a challenge.

Let’s talk name change. You just renewed with the patent office for the name ‘NCTA The Internet and Television Association.’ You have until February of next year to use it or lose it. So, are you going to change the name of the organization?

I would not commit to that, I think. We are the association that focuses on the internet and television and that’s what the rebranding of this show is intended to convey. We sometimes have conversations about our brand and marketing.

And if I am being honest we have looked at refreshing it or conceivably looking at different options about how you give it more vigor. But I don’t want to say that we will or won’t do that.

I don’t think I have made any secret over the years that I am always looking for new and fresher ways to present the industry that is faithful to its legacy.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel’s renomination is being held up. Shouldn’t the Republicans allow a vote on it?

I will say this. I have known Jessica Rosenworcel a long time. I think she is a high caliber, quality lawyer and quality commissioner. She certainly deserves to have her nomination vetted fully and fully considered.

It’s a busy time for National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell. But he took time out from prepping for the NCTA’s annual INTX convention (May 16-18) to talk with B&C Washington bureau chief John Eggerton about the state of the industry, the FCC’s programming inquiry and how it feels to be running up against the upfronts and more. An edited transcript follows.

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