Release of the major cable company quarterly numbers has led to a series of painfully predictable articles. If you didn’t know better you would think that the cable industry is in major trouble, all of our customers are abandoning us for satellites, and soon, the game will be over. All this is happening because we have yet to get the point across, especially to consumer and business reporters, that "cable" no longer simply means "video distribution." We abandoned the acronym CATV, meaning community antenna television, long ago, but that is what these folks are still writing about. Since cable’s basic video share is going down and satellite’s is going up, they perceive this as the beginning of the end for cable, especially since satellite is that magic thing called "digital" and basic cable is still "only" analog. A few facts: first, digital pictures are not perfect. They just have different problems. Yes, they often look very nice, and sure, it would be great if all viewers got all digital cable. But there are many very well run analog channels being offered with very good pictures. Indeed, one of my most strident satellite friends has often pointed out that the old "C Band" analog satellite feeds had better pictures than DBS. Second, while it is certainly true that DBS is gaining subscribers at our expense, and competition has heated up incredibly, it is also true that cable companies are significantly increasing their "revenue generating units." Cable companies are offering far more, and varied product than satellite and when you look at the whole picture, rather than just one piece of it, you also notice that some of the biggest cable companies are now cash flow positive. Meanwhile, some competitors in the video distribution business are having to curtail their subscriber acquisition programs because they simply cost too much. You can low-ball for a while, but eventually it catches up to you! Finally, we must say over and over again that we are not simply a video distribution platform any more. Yes, that is an important part of what we do, and there is every reason to think we have an infrastructure that will allow us to do it better than anyone else. As video on demand expands, as HDTV expands, cable can deliver. DBS cannot. The papers in the last few days have been full of the fact that the DBS competition has become fierce in part because they are finally bringing local broadcast signals to their subscribers. What has not been said is what DBS will do when those subscribers want to see those programs in HD. We can, they can’t. The same is true for VOD when the program owners finally realize that consumers want flexible video libraries. We can give it to them. DBS can’t. And while we are on the subject, we can give them secure, reliable high-speed data access, and telephone service at a substantial discount from traditional phone company prices. Sure, the phone companies and the DBS folks are trying to get together to "bundle" the way we can-and there will still be plenty of competition. But if we all remember what we are-and where we have the ability to go, then I think the "gloom and doom" scenarios being painted in the press, and depressing our stock prices, start looking pretty silly. That’s why some "in the know" have decided to "go private"-they know what we are, and what we’ve got.

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Effros: Not So Fast

Two news items this week caught my attention. In both cases it seems to me that folks are, as they say, “…getting a little ahead of their skis.”

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