A New Golden Age Dawning Filling out my Cable Show survey for NCTA this past week, I couldn’t help but reflect back on Las Vegas. And while the show won’t be ranked among the all-time greats, there was something about it that got me very excited about this industry and our future. And let’s be honest, isn’t that any trade show’s ultimate goal? Anyway, it occurred to me as I reflected back that cable is entering into a golden age of consumer technology, meaning we’re about to unleash a slew of products that will filter their way deep into the cycle of human behavior. And I’m not just talking about VOD and DVRs here. I’m talking dozens of curious and unassuming little devices that will make the content we deliver incrementally easier to access, manage, and transport to other locations. And unlike the past ten years of digital evolution, these are not merely backroom developments. I saw demos of products that went far beyond back office support; far beyond the sausage-making portion of network management. These technologies weren’t simply middleware designed to make headends hum instead of purr, or to make an MSO networks smarter, or faster or less expensive. No, they were, in a very fundamental way, technologies that consumers will be able to touch and feel; ones that have the ability to make even the most non-technical of our users sit back at some point, smile and say, "Cool." These products are digital, but not in some abstract, binary fashion. They are real, they are functioning, and they have immediate value to consumers. One allows them to troubleshoot computer and modem problems without having to call their local operator for support. This product, by Peak8 Solutions, is designed to eliminate up to 50% of Tier 1 service calls. But more than that, it’s designed to cut 50% of the frustration customers feel when their service is out, make their downtime 50% more palatable, and improve their relationship with their local operator by, I don’t know… say 50%. Another product lets customers install certain services themselves, without any technician or CSR support, nor any additional software or installation CDs. This one, by Next Generation Broadband, has current application with both high-speed service and, as of the Cable Show, VoIP as well. Both products were idiot-proof (as evidence by my ability to not merely grasp the concept on which they were designed but to actually use them myself) and both were developed, not by mad scientist techno-geeks, but by people with years of experience on the MSO side. Among those on Peak8’s advisory board are former Charter CTO Wayne Davis. NGB’s management team also includes an array of former Road Runner and Continental stalwarts. What I witnessed—and what I sense lies ahead for this industry—reminds me of cable’s first programming renaissance nearly 30 years ago. I was working at an MSO then and remember the early pitches for networks like MTV and BET. I remember John Hendricks walking down the hall to the conference room, briefcase in hand. I remember the networks that took off and those that tanked. For every Discovery Channel, there were a dozen Satellite News Channels. But what was thrilling about that era was that it was driven by the simple belief that, for programming entrepreneurs, there was no such thing as a crazy idea. That’s where we are right now with digital technology. This is an exciting new age and a great time to be in cable—or for that matter, to be a cable customer. Years ago, when people like John Sie, Jim Chiddix and Wendell Bailey were saying this digital stuff would set the world on its ear, I never really heard them. I never got it; not really. But thanks to this year’s Cable Show, I do now.