At the closing brunch of the CTAM conference in New Orleans today, the panel discussed everything from 3D video to tablets to the economy. The audience was particularly interested in what Tom Rutledge, COO with Cablevision Systems, had to say in light of the operator’s current high-profile retransmission dispute with Fox Networks.
As the impasse stretched into its fifth day, and Fox broadcast stations and cable networks remained dark in Cablevision’s footprint, Rutledge told the CTAM audience in New Orleans: "It’s a difficult market from a growth perspective, and a difficult market to raise rates. Our data service hasn’t had a rate increase in seven years. We don’t think it’s a good time to increase rates on people who can’t afford it."
Rutledge was especially adamant about Fox’s broadcast stations: "To try to restructure an industry on the backs of consumers with power that comes from a federal license seems inappropriate to me. They have that license and now they want to monetize it on the backs of people who can’t afford it. It calls for government intervention because it’s a regulated business."
With that elephant-in-the-room was dispatched, the panel went on to discuss its scheduled topic: 3D video.
In addition to Rutledge, the panel included Debra Lee, chairman/CEO of BET Networks; Paul Liao, president/CEO of CableLabs; Craig Moffett, vice president and sales analyst with Sanford Bernstein; and Jonas Tanenbaum, vice president/marketing with Samsung Electronics North America.
Their opinions about 3D ran the gamut, with Tanenbaum quite optimistic about 3D, and Lee saying there was no demand from BET audiences for the technology.
"We haven’t started thinking about (3D) at all yet," said Lee. "We haven’t had the demand from the consumers on the TV side. It’s our duty to stay on top of technology, but 3D hasn’t entered our broadcast model yet. We’re still focusing on HD."
But Samsung’s Tanenbaum countered, "Based on sales so far, I would characterize 3D as an overwhelming success."
CableLabs’ Liao was bullish about the technology: "There’s a huge market potential. But 3D is going to be a special-event kind of thing in my view. Not every show is going to be 3D. The good news is almost nothing has to be done to the cable plant to deliver 3D. I’m very bullish on 3D."
Moffett predicted that 3D-capable TVs will displace non-3D-TVs at retail stores: "The real question is: ‘Is there a big market yet for glasses?’"
For the one operator on the panel, 3D wasn’t a question of consumer premise equipment or 3D glasses or 3D content.
"As a cable person, I don’t look at it as a business at all," said Rutledge. "It’s a new format that you might have to look at from a delivery perspective. It has costs associated with it. If it has any traction, people will convert their signals to it, but it won’t really be a differentiator in terms of your product."
After 3D, the conversation moved to "TV Everywhere" and the potential of tablets, including the iPad.
"These tablets can be a remote control device, a user interface; they can be a screen, they can be a telephone, a PC, a TV," said Rutledge. "The ability to move your product around the house is the opportunity we now have."
Of course, for cable operators, one of the biggest hurdles to TV Everywhere is their installed base of legacy set-top boxes.
"These new CE devices have the ability to work with backward capability with set-tops," Rutledge noted, adding that Cablevision is working on a TV-to-PC relay offering where anything subs do on the PC can be displayed on the TV through a centralized networking system "that we’re about to roll out this quarter," he said. "We haven’t priced it yet. It will be a fairly minimal price."