Twenty years ago when I entered the cable industry, operators and programmers were truly partners. We shared in each others’ goals and successes. But today when content can be accessed at any time or any place, over devices such as digital television sets, PCs and cell phones, it seems as if it’s every man for himself. Last year I commented on how major programming networks package and sell content directly to our customers, but don’t give operators that same flexibility. This year I have seen sports leagues, which were ecstatic when cable created ESPN because it gave them greater fan reach and valuable advertising revenues, create their own channels and try to dictate how cable operators bundle and sell their service. And local broadcasters, who were happy to have the reach cable originally gave them, now charge monopoly rates and say cable carriage provides no value. All of this is occurring in a political/regulatory climate where Congress and the FCC are watching. Congress, at least, hopes it doesn’t have to act on programming choice and indecency issues. But if these problems don’t get better, Congress will act, and the answer will be mandatory a la carte. Chairman Martin is already there. Congress and the FCC need to act on retransmission consent, which is only getting worse. Cable operators must unite to tell Washington that RETRANSMISSION CONSENT IS NOT A FREE MARKET THAT BENEFITS CONSUMERS. If we are to solve these issues collectively, then it is time once again for cable operators and our programming partners to figure out how we can share in each others’ successes. Content owners—programming and broadcasting—need to move away from "take it or leave it" tactics, which are a selfish, short-term strategy that will result in a congressional overreaction to what lawmakers will perceive as a denial of consumer choice. FCC Chairman Martin says his agency will no longer track cable rates on a per-channel basis because "cable operators" aren’t selling their programming on a per-channel basis. I acknowledge there is debate in our industry over whether the bundle is good or bad, but the point is that cable operators don’t have the choice anyway. Content owners won’t allow it. Like it or not, our industry is hurtling toward a digital world where choice will be the norm. Maybe it will take this technological revolution and transformation to occur first before our industry accepts that more choices for consumers are not a bad thing. But in the meantime, let’s start together elsewhere. Wireless, video-on-demand, and video-on-the-go are three of many new services where consumers will benefit from the breadth of video content that is available today. All of these business plans need content and a way to deliver that content to the consumer. We, as a collective industry, need to figure out how to give our customers what they want, when they want it. When the cable industry was in its infancy, programmers and operators joined forces to create new compelling content delivered in new ways, in addition to the free over-the-air broadcast signals that were available on cable systems. Once again, we’re together on the verge of a brave new world. Our future, and what happens in Washington and elsewhere, is up to us. Matt Polka is pres/CEO of the American Cable Association.

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