Commentary By Steve Effros ‘SOON’ I started wondering what the word "soon" meant after reading this line in a recent Wall Street Journal article: "Their efforts suggest the possibility that soon, consumers will be able to watch whatever they want, when they want, without the help of the local cable company." Now the article was actually a fascinating look at what Comcast is doing to develop its video library, VOD capability, and a unified technical plant based on Internet search capabilities. But the impression was one of imminent change in the marketplace. That’s a misimpression. To be fair, I contacted the reporter and he acknowledged my reservation about using the word "soon." But he also noted that with the speed of technology development in our business, who could be sure what the world would look like in 2010? He’s right. But I don’t consider 2010 "soon" in this business. It’s an issue of realistic expectations- something I have written about many times before-that concerns me. The last week has seen a remarkable amount of puffery and bluster surrounding those expectations. I sometimes wonder whether the people who are writing this stuff have any notion that they may simply be a pawn in a vast game of stock market manipulation. That’s sure what it looks like from here. Let’s take the Apple iPod announcement last week as an example. The stories and pictures and speculation built to a thundering crescendo as Apple made it clear that it was going to "unveil" a "new" product. And it finally arrived: it was just a new iPod, slimmer, with more memory, and this one has a slightly larger screen that can display video. Well, other folks, including Echostar, had introduced portable video players before Apple, and they were more versatile than Apple’s. But with brilliant marketing PR, the Apple announcement hit all the papers with headlines suggesting that the days of watching television would forever be changed! The new era was upon us, and ABC was now going to sell their top series programs for $2.00 a pop one day after they were aired on the network. $2.00 a program? Think about that. The average household uses its televisions 8 hours a day (often with different sets on different programs, so it is really a higher number than that.) $16 bucks a day? $480 a month? On a screen which is 2.5 inches and into a device that produces less than VCR quality when plugged into a real television set? Please. Yes, there may be a niche market for the portable video player. And there may be a business plan for selling high-value programming at a high price to those who missed the episode, or forgot to program their DVR (it won’t happen a second time, and once programmed, the DVR will record the entire rest of the season for "free!") But is the new iPod in any way a significant "threat" to, or harbinger of, a major change in the way we watch, or get our television "soon"? No. Neither is "IPTV" which has yet to show that it will scale properly and work economically, nor is "streaming" video. All the program rights issues, distribution "window" issues, security issues, as well as the cost and necessary time required to roll out new technologies and the relative current satisfaction of the viewing public suggest that wherever we are going, we are not going to get there "soon". All of these technological changes will happen, but the cable industry is part of that progress, not a victim of it. And we’re here "now".