AUSTIN, Texas — Cable pundit Steve Effros never is at a loss for words or for innovative (albeit sometimes quasi legal and always fun) solutions to some of the industry’s stickier problems.

Addressing attendees at this week’s National Cable Telecommunications Cooperative (NCTC) Winter Educational Conference (WEC), Effros tackled a number of issues he had listed on a 3×3 sticky, all the while assuring operators that they really have nothing to fear from either competition or such regulations as must carry or retrans fees.

For those cablecos covering the New York City market soon to be served by Barry Diller’s Aereo brainchild (for more information, click here), Effros has a tongue-in-cheek competitive idea for you: hire a helicopter and fly close to the startup’s thumbnail antenna array in Brooklyn. “It’s just a little multipath distortion,” he notes, once again predicting the Aereo dog just won’t hunt.

Citing Aereo’s promise to be a $12/month service because it won’t have to pay retrans fees, Effros noted, “They’ve forgotten one thing: To get the signal from the antenna array to the broadband connection to the Internet, who is going to process that signal? That’s retrans! $12 a month just isn’t going to cover it.”

In an upbeat way of dispelling the gloom and doom he’s been hearing from cablecos, Effros repeatedly told NCTC members, “You’re in a good position for where we’re going. You have the plant to deliver what people want to see and do. You already have the infrastructure, and you can upgrade it.  Use it to leverage your capabilities.”

Retrans will not break the cable industry, he said. Rather, it won’t last for much longer. Effros predicted that as live sports get more expensive, operators will break it into a specific pricing tier that will not punish those not interested; he called it “detaching.” He also believes networks will begin negotiating directly with cablecos rather than using the affiliates to do so because “why would you continue to want to have a relationship with someone who is taking half your money?”

And Google reportedly will announce Google TV for its Kansas City, Mo./Kansas broadband experiment (for more information, click here)  within 24 hours, but it may not know what it really has gotten itself into. Effros cited the long time it took to negotiate pole attachments (something Google apparently had not anticipated), and then he gleefully said, “Do you think we ought to tell them what ‘make ready’ is? The new big guys with lot of money are not going to make you go away. The larger they are, the harder they fall. Does anyone remember CBS Cable?”

Perhaps Effros’ biggest idea is for “reverse must carry.” Here’s how it goes:

“Broadcasters have been telling cable for the past 30 years that local channels are so important that they must be carried. Broadcasters were given the free spectrum to do so, but they have not reached every viewer in their marketplace; they’ve depended on cable to do that. As such, they have not met their obligation. We need legislation that says if a broadcaster can be shown to not be delivering personally to everyone, it is not meeting the rules for its spectrum ownership, and the spectrum must be taken back. Also, they cannot get retrans money until they deliver service to everyone; they can’t charge cablecos for doing a broadcaster’s job. This looks legal…” he said, eyeing some attorneys in the audience.

Tech Spotlight Winner

For the second time in its WEC history, attendees voted for the best and most innovative new product at the show. This year, the winner was Evolution for its Liberty HD uDTA Wall Plate Device that installs directly onto a subscriber’s standard F81 coax plate. Other contenders included Clearleap (IP Streaming Services), Dyyno (TV Everywhere Android STB Solution), RGB Networks (Scalable Solutions for Multiscreen IP Video) and TVC-SeaChange (Customizable Multi Screen User Interface).

Same Time, Next Year

The 2013 NCTC WEC is slated for Las Vegas.

Debra Baker

The Daily


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