Embracing technological innovation and withstanding the economic downturn were the two major topics fleshed out by cable and entertainment execs during Thursday’s General Session.

"Technology is a friend, not a foe," said Robert Iger, president and CEO of Walt Disney. "We believe we have to look at technology as a means of maximizing opportunity. On this issue, history is full of lessons." He pointed to the failed efforts of radio to stop television and of broadcast networks to thwart cable.

"None (have) stopped the consumer driven revolution," he said. "You can’t slow the pace of technology. The challenge is to prosper from the new opportunities created by each advance."

Disney has made content available via iTunes and offers a variety of its programming online. For example, shows from ABC are available for free 12 hours after they originally air. "(We are) building brand loyalty and increasing viewer engagement with our product," Iger said.

While open to hearing more about the concept of authentication, Iger expressed concern about its practicality. "(We are) mindful of the potential fallout if (we) alienated consumers or encouraged acts of piracy by blocking the product from entering the market in legitimate ways."

What cable faces

When the sole representative on the panel from the vendor community, Dan Moloney, president of Motorola’s Home & Networks Mobility business, was asked about the technology coming down the pike for cable, he picked up a similar theme and addressed the concept of blending Internet and television.

Michael Willner, CEO of Insight Communications, said that cable does indeed need to learn from the mistakes of other industries and not be "unorganized" about the way it deals with new technology.

"I think for the foreseeable future, the video and broadband experience are two very different animals," Willner said. "With regard to over-the-top programming, I think it is important that programmers and distributors understand the value of the products we deliver."

Moloney also mentioned place shifting, saying the industry is at the "cusp" of being able to move content out of the home. "From a technology standpoint we can do it today," he said. "(We) will see, in some parts of the world, services in the next 12 months. Issues here need to be sorted through relative to programming rights, control and authentication."

The cable operator representatives called mobility a "really big part of the future," and "part of our destiny."

"It is a mistake to view wireless as a separate business from wireline," said Glenn Britt, chairman and CEO, Time Warner Cable. "The network of the future is a hybrid."

As for the economy, panelists acknowledged that the recession is one of the worst they had seen, but held strong to the notion that cable and broadband are among the last items people are willing to give up in tough times.

Thomas Rutledge of Cablevision Systems noted that his company is among those just completing a massive upgrade project. "We’ve built networks that are designed to last decades. Our business strategy is not dependent on a single business cycle. It is dependent on having better products that flow from the network investments we have made."

– Monta Monaco Hernon

Read more news and analysis on Communications Technology‘s Web site at www.cable360.net/ct/news/.

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