There’s an old joke that’s perhaps a bit tacky or insensitive considering the goings-on in Las Vegas this week, but appropriate nevertheless. "I went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out."
For those who like their jokes updated beyond the Broad Street Bullies, here’s a more modern version. "I went to a Cable Show, and SuperComm broke out."
There’s no other way to describe a situation where the mightiest of cable’s mighty – Brian Roberts, chairman-CEO of Comcast (do the wave then he speaks, as Richard Parsons, chairman-CEO of Time Warner suggested during a keynote session) – spent more time talking about cable as a purveyor of everything but smut, leaving that inference to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin who apparently didn’t get the memo that cable’s not television – it’s a hugely diversified commercial enterprise.
Maybe some of the rest of us didn’t get the memo about cable, either. With the exception of a few programmers sniping at each other and the MSOs because the Internet and digital and technology are hurting their businesses, the business of cable seems to be the business of the telephone companies.
"The world changes so fast, and it’s not just about television," said Roberts. "We’re in a great position to go create a new platform." The business of doing it That, said Roberts’ right hand man Steve Burke, aka Comcast’s COO, is what differentiates cable from others in any business. While a car manufacturer brings out a new model annually with a different skin and maybe a few new features, cable unveils whole new lines of business. This, he said, can lead to unreachable expectations such as the clamor among some to add wireless or security as a fourth or fifth leg of cable’s platform.
"It’s very hard to do five new businesses at the same time," said Burke. "Sixty percent of our techs are trained to do a triple-play install."
More of those techs are now being trained to be part of a workforce that installs commercial systems for small-medium business (SMB) customers.
"The time is now for business class service," said Steve Trippe, vice president and general manager of Charter Communications in St. Louis.
The timing is made even riper by the fact that cable, by entering a core telco business, can "distract these players and have them redirect their dollars and their focus (away from their video entertainment bent) to compete with the cable industry," said Kenneth Fitzpatrick, senior vice president of Time Warner Cable Business. "As an industry, we’re starting to change this to a communications giant competing against phone companies."
While that might be a bit grandiose – and future editions of this newsletter will dig into some of the intricacies of cable’s telco and commercial plays – it’s pretty safe to say that the feeling coming out of The Cable Show is that the fight is only in the first round, and the combatants are still relatively unbloodied.
It is "almost a certainty" that more than half of the cable industry’s business will come from nonvideo entertainment in the next five years, Burke said. "The focus about what’s going to put us out of business seems to be much greater and blown out of proportion than what it should be." – Jim Barthold