More from editor-in-chief Amy Maclean’s interview with new NCTA pres/CEO Michael Powell, who is presiding over his first Cable Show this week.
Why did you take the job? Why not? I’ve had the benefit of having a vantage point from the govt and knowing these industries and associations. I have a very, very high regard for NCTA and the industries it represents. When this opportunity came up, I thought about it and it seemed very exciting because it’s an industry really at the cutting edge of America’s ambitions for the information age. The services, networks and infrastructure it provides are the lynchpin for a lot of the types of things our public policy leaders are talking about and are industry is talking about as critical to the American dream. What better subject could you possibly want to work on and what better platform to work on it from. It’s challenging, but we’re blessed with a brilliant staff who has a really wonderful reputation. That was the final straw—to work with great people on great issues. It’s hard to find a better job.
What have you been doing in your first months on the job? Transitioning. Getting to know staff, the issues, how the building works. I’m glad I have some familiarity with the issues or it would be truly daunting. But we’ve done a lot of evaluation of where we’ve been and where we’re going. We’re working hard to develop a vision and a strategy for the execution of that vision. We had a board meeting and an executive committee or 2, so we’ve had some discussion-focusing events that I think have been useful. And preparing for the show, which is a huge undertaking. I think I’ve always had some appreciation, but when you’re on the inside you see the amazing amount of work and thought that goes into this. And the people who are involved do an exceptional job.
In light of Meredith Baker’s departure for Comcast and with you having been at the Commission, do you think there should be a rule against leaving to join a public company?
It’s not for me to say whether there should be a rule. The only thing I would say is I’ve known Meredith Baker for a very long time. I don’t know any finer public servant, and I don’t have one ounce of doubt that she engaged in any kind of quid pro quo behavior or any kind of tangible violation of the ethical principles. Everybody understands that this created a real controversy around the appearances of that. All of us as public servants are cognizant of appearances, and I think she’s conducted herself well. Whether Congress or the FCC believes there should be some kind of rule, at the end of the day, you can’t legislate away completely the importance of allowing individuals to make judgments about that.
Have you been in touch with Kyle McSlarrow?
Constantly! The one reason I almost didn’t take [the job] is how do you follow someone who did such a tremendous job. I heard over and over doing diligence that Kyle set a gold standard. We became friends while he was running the agency. I was one of the first lunches he had when he took over and we’ve stayed in touch since. We worked together in Broadband for America on net neutrality. In many ways I would compliment or condemn Kyle for being one of the critical voices who talked me into succeeding him. I’m proud to come in behind Kyle and rely on him heavily for good thoughts and advice.
We’ve heard a lot about cable rates, with some inquiries into re-regulating rates.
I think the rate discussion has become more complex and challenging. What consumers really respond to is not just the number of the rates, but what they perceive as value. And value has become even more complicated than years past when we argue about rates because consumers are buying bundles, consumers are making trade-offs between multiple kinds of services, there is more transactional content and relationships—VOD, PPV, online substitution. One of the real challenges with rates these days is what are you comparing what to. I think it’s a competitive market that’s relatively well regulated. I don’t think there’s a strong case for further regulating it. I also think the value proposition is high. One of the biggest problems when people start complaining about rates is that we’re not really doing an apples to apples comparison. If you’re going to test whether they are competitive, then you really do need to look at what the rates of our competitors are and how our rates fare in relationship to what other people are doing as well. You also have to take account of the kinds of discounts that are available because often there is a community of people who are not paying the supposedly offending rate. And then you have to evaluate … in bundles. Sometimes a published rate on a core broadcast… is essentially free. Our industry should and ought to be sensitive… but we have to make sure this discussion is on fair terms. I think the rates show more often than not that these are real markets. They are creative packages responding to packages by other people. Rates go down responding to competition, but rates also fluctuate in response to competition. If your competitor is raising rates, sometimes that means there is more value in that market than previously thought.
Is a la carte still on the table?
Not yet. I am still personally of the belief it would be a mistake. I think one of the things happening is the evolving model. You are seeing a lot of the impulses that were around a la carte, at least from a consumer perspective, are partly being attended to through innovation and technology. To my 16-year-old, a la carte means that there is some programming he values that he can watch on his iPad on demand. It just shows that sometimes the problem with these advance debates that they can’t really anticipate fairly which way the market or technology is going to go.
Who’s you video provider?
How much is your bill?
It’s healthy. The chmn of my board should be pleased I am contributing to his well-being.