If nothing else, top cable executives believe that their voice offerings are on track this year and that the next step in the process is to work out the kinks in the joint venture with Sprint. That’s the overall impression of a schizophrenic National Show in Atlanta where the show floor was spotted with new and old programmers-many looking for slots in the portable media space-and the panels were dominated by old line execs extolling the virtues of their services, denigrating the competition and explaining how cable is moving into the voice space with wireline and wireless products. "I like our hand a lot," said Richard Parsons, chairman-CEO of Time Warner, the parent of Time Warner Cable. "The cable platform is the only one that can deliver all the goods now. Telcos are way off pace. They’re not there today; we are." That sort of optimism even bubbled into the more technically oriented panel sessions such as one titled, "Into Thin Air: The Amazing, Invisible, Wireless Cable Connection" that discussed the heavy lifting going on and being planned for the Sprint joint venture (JV). A seamless experience "Our goal is to deliver a seamless experience," said Mimi Thigpen, vice president of strategy at Cox Communications. To do that, the seams have to be sewn among a disparate group of operators, each with individual agendas-and demanding bosses-and a wireless carrier that doesn’t know much about the cable space but knows that it wants a chunk of cable’s programming running on its user-friendly handsets. "It’s a new mindset for the cable industry," admitted Tom Nagle, senior vice president of the newly formed Wireless Services group at Comcast Cable. "We’re going to go out, and we’re going to learn." So, said John Garcia, Sprint’s representative to the part and also the JV’s president, will the telco partner. The mobile carrier, though, will come from the other end of cable’s operations-centric focus and look at the end device-the cell phone handset. Deepen the relationship The JV’s goal, he said, is "giving customers the opportunity to expand and even deepen the relationship they have with all these devices." The JV, he said, is "a lot more than just a quad play. We all have a very common vision of what convergence is." And, he concluded, the JV’s parents all have a common vision of what their purpose is as a group. "We’re not curing cancer or anything," he pointed out, but still, "it’s hard work." That hard work will show its first results when the JV trials the service in Portland, OR; Raleigh, NC; and Austin, TX-a Comcast and two Time Warner systems. Besides testing the technology, the goal will be to "stay focused on the consumer experience and keep that as a guiding light for us," said Thigpen, who then tossed out the hardest part of all for a joint venture with individual agendas. "We’ll have to be smart." The executives speak Speaking of smart, the cable industry is smarting to some extent from the invasion of the telcos into their space with video entertainment and potentially national franchising-and a series of blistering attacks on the way cable’s been doing the job of delivering its services. At least one cable answer is to fire back at markets the telcos either own or covet: commercial customers. "We have the opportunity to sell this whole business marketplace" where "the major media forum really is cable television," said Tom Rutledge, Cablevision Systems‘ COO. "With our fiber networks, we can compete anywhere." Rutledge didn’t seem too impressed with the telco video competition he’s been experiencing in Cablevision’s Metro New York markets from Verizon‘s FiOS offering. "There’s been a lot of press releases," he said. "They have to build their physical plant" and that is a "totally uneconomic proposition on their part." A final thought The consumer should be a very happy because, like Raymond, everybody just loves the consumer. "The consumer is the reason cable’s focused on wireless," Glenn Britt, president-CEO of Time Warner Cable said just last week during a keynote address at CTIA Wireless 2006 in Las Vegas. "We need to focus on what the consumer wants," said David Zaslav, president of NBC Universal Cable during a closing day general session at this year’s NCTA National Show in Atlanta. Then came the qualifiers. "It’s hard to tell what consumers want," Zaslav admitted. "I’m a consumer, and if I can get everything in the world for free, I like that," said Britt. "That’s not the way the world works." Consumers will probably find how the world works-or at least get re-educated-sometime later this year. – Jim Barthold

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