Media Convergence or Media Dominance? By Matt Polka When I joined the cable industry in 1986 convergence was when a cable network aired a show that was once on broadcast television. In 2006, media convergence is the coming together of virtually every distribution platform. Cable companies provide the "triple play" of voice, video and data, while looking to tap the "quadruple play"-wireless. Telephone companies are moving fast to be the next big video platform. Broadcasters and newspapers have websites, and partner with cellular companies to provide news, weather and entertainment information. All of these industries are positioning themselves to be the distributor of choice for the consumer. But who really controls that choice? Major networks and programming companies today seek not only to control the content that is distributed on these platforms, but also to control other means of distribution that bypass the traditional multi-video programming distributor. And these content companies are looking to exploit this convergence to the best of their ability. In a Variety article on March 21, the president and CEO of the Disney Corporation was quoted as saying, "Remaining a slave to fixed consumption would be a huge mistake and at Disney we’re refusing to do that." Oh, that’s right. That would just be MVPDs that must remain slaves to the fixed consumption of content dictated by the networks. In the same article, Disney reported there have been 4 million downloads of Disney shows via Apple’s iTunes. The same CEO said the deal "introduced a new distribution platform and of equal importance, a new revenue stream. It was the right deal for Disney." It is more than just a little ironic that smaller and medium-sized, independent cable operators have been searching for flexibility in the way they deliver content to our customers. Independent cable has long been the canary in the coalmine as we watched our marketplace change and tried to adapt by providing more flexibility and choices for our customers. But I guess this wasn’t the "right deal" for the major content networks. Despite this incredible double-standard, MVPDs and even local broadcasters will be forced to adapt to this new business model, which features the major content providers skipping traditional partners to provide their content directly to the consumer. What a deal! Keep forcing content onto MVPDs, allowing no choices for consumers. Rake in the dough. Say you’re really for localism, but then cannibalize the local stations by selling network programs on the Internet. Rake in the dough. Also, use cable’s broadband pipe to do it. Rake in the dough. CBS is adamant about receiving cash for the retransmission consent of CBS O&O stations ("hundreds of millions of dollars," they claim), all the while selling shows directly to the consumer like CSI, Survivor, NCIS and Amazing Race. This seems to be the ultimate case of having your cake and eating it too. But remember, it’s all for LOCALISM. Just once I’d like to hear a CEO of one of these companies say, "The truth is, we really only care about ourselves." Then, what is commonly known will be out in the open. Independent cable and all MVPDs must be innovative to make the content and services we offer to our consumers unique. After all, it’s a converging world, right? Depends on who’s defining the convergence. Matt Polka is pres/CEO of the American Cable Association.

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