SCTE Expo: Techies Look to Translate Passion to Masses

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There’s no shortage of enthusiasm this week at the Georgia World Congress Center as cable engineers and techies gathered at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo plot out cable’s future. The question, however, is whether the industry can shake perceptions that it somehow doesn’t share the same cutting edge with companies like Apple and Google. "This industry has a chip on its shoulder," noted NCTA pres/CEO Michael Powell during Tues’ general opening session. "We should be in the conversation at the big boys’ table when that conversation takes place." That means more risk-taking and better messaging with policymakers and the public, with Powell urging more engineers to come forward as "ambassadors" who understand complex technology but also "can translate that to something comprehensible in policy circles" as Washington contemplates broadband regulation. He said cable’s acronym-happy demeanor doesn’t help. "Please get rid of the name [DOCSIS] 3.1 and come up with something to call this thing," he said. "We need to own this thing and sell this thing with passion and commitment." Cox pres Pat Esser later vowed that "we’ll find a better word, maybe it will be Powell Broadband, I don’t know" before acknowledging that cable needs to be more flexible as consumer habits evolve. "If you want to know what skills to develop, look at consumer behavior," he said, noting the importance of personalization and a multi-screen features. Comcast evp/COO Dave Watson agreed that "we’ve got to move faster" to compete, noting much potential where the cloud, content and WiFi converge (He gave props to Cablevision for showing the industry WiFi’s potential in the early days). At another session, Cox vp, engineering Guy McCormick urged cable to throw out old game plans. "Be open minded," he said. "It’s going to take very different approaches to solve challenges in the future." For example, Google expects only 1 project out of 10 to succeed, noted Sarepta Advisors partner Marwan Fawaz, who got a glimpse into the culture when he ran Motorola Mobility following Google’s acquisition of the set-top unit. Powell said cable needs to adopt that "fast-fail culture" of Silicon Valley and rock the boat within board rooms. "Be a pain," he said. "Be an agitating force for risk-taking" as OTT players and others close in. "They’re all mounting on their hill, and they intend to charge our business," he said. "I don’t know of one tech company in this country that hasn’t decided that it wants in on our stuff."

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