The National Cable Television Cooperative and the American Cable Association have joined missions and forces in a meeting that began on Sunday and continues through Wednesday: the first annual Independent Show.
Over the course of these days, NCTC and ACA are offering a kabob of programming, legislative and technical updates, served with a heaping side dish of more than 110 vendor exhibits. The theme for the show, "Winds of Change," was chosen "not just because of the windy reputation of our host city [Chicago], but more to reflect the changes sweeping across the industry," wrote Jeff Abbas, NCTC CEO and president, and Matt Polka, ACA president, in their welcome letter. "All-digital lineups, VoIP, quad-play, multicast must-carry, net neutrality, national franchises, a la carte, and more are all a part of the change." Wireless ‘quad play’ Among the topics are two technical sessions, aimed to help independent operators sharpen their competitive edge. In the quad-play session this morning, independent operators got a peek at the pinnacle of bundled offerings – and how cable operators are beginning to marry cable and mobile communications. Leading off this discussion was Brent Groome, chief executive of customer operations at Horry Telephone Cooperative, who offered a real-life success story, mapping HTC’s path to reselling cellular phone service. An innovator that began offering cable TV in 1983 and digital cable in 2000, HTC was a consortium participant in early spectrum auctions and by the end of Q1 2006 had about twice as many wireless as digital cable subscribers. Groome’s churn analysis indicated that presence of wireless and cable video services has made HTC "stickier" to the customer, but cautioned about a "catch-22" if wireless is poorly executed. "They could potentially leave you on all three services," he said. Kevin Packingham, vice president of product development for the landmark $200 million, three-year Sprint/MSO joint venture, echoed Groome’s point. "The risk of creating a bad customer experience is high," he said, adding that a lot of the "blocking and tackling" of the JV so far has focused on accurate billing and good customer service. The potential rewards are high as well, given that that cable and wireless providers have what Packingham said was a one-to-two year competitive advantage to provide a bundle of desirable new services such as unlimited calling between mobile and home, mobile access to home email, location of family and friends, and mobile digital video recorder (DVR) programming. Packingham’s point was that this is about more than just a fourth new service. "None of the (JV) partners refer to this as a quad play," he said. The adoption of IMS technologies could add such features as profiles and "one address book." As additional participation, Packingham encouraged attendees to stay in touch with existing (JV) partners all the better to "raise your hand" when the call is issued, possibly in early 2007. "We’re moving very quickly," he said. Also moving ahead is a small-operator solution to converged services discussed by Michael Pastor, president of Net2Phone Cable Telephony. "We are going to be an aggregator and an enabler," he said. The pilot launches of this platform will take place later this year, with wider availability expected the first half of 2007. Pastor said the goal is not to be a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) but rather to simplify the backend for operators who want to add mobile services to their customers. Digital options Two independent operators take the helm in tomorrow’s all-digital technical panel. Patrick Knorr, general manager at Sunflower Broadband, and Jim Brown, director of engineering for Buckeye CableSystems, will talk about how they are making the migration to all digital through digital simulcast. For more, see CT’s Video Report on Thursday. – Sarah Mote and Jonathan Tombes