Catbird Seat Out here at the National Show in Las Vegas there is one question that I keep getting asked: what do you think the "mood" is of the industry this year? The same words pop into my head each time: catbird seat. I wasn’t really sure where that term came from, but I sure knew what I meant by it. The industry seems to me to be in a very confident, commanding position even though there are some things-like the atmosphere in Washington-that are not what we would like. "Catbird seat" was popularized by James Thurber in the early 1940’s, apparently after hearing Red Barber use it while announcing a Yankees baseball games. But it wasn’t referring to where Barber was sitting, all the way up at the top of the stadium; it was referring to the catbird… a real bird, which tends to take to the highest point in the yard to oversee the landscape before singing its songs. The catbird is a cousin of the mockingbird, and apparently is very good at using its flexible voice to sound like many different things (including a cat). Well, it fits. The cable industry at this year’s show feels like it is in the "catbird seat" for good reason. When you survey the landscape, you realize that the money we have spent, the infrastructure we have built, and just as important, the new advances in technology we are taking advantage of, are all combining to create an incredibly flexible capability to provide numerous different services. Not only are we providing them, we are doing it as well or better than the competitors in those discrete markets, and that in turn has resulted in cable industry leaders announcing some of the best first quarter results anyone could have expected. What’s more, there is no end in sight. So yes, we are sitting in the catbird seat, and it is a very nice place to be. Video customer counts are starting to go up again, primarily because we have met the competition of "digital" delivery (digital penetration is now close to 50%) and the "triple play" is inducing customers to come back. Broadband data customers are increasingly deciding that the cable offering is not only faster but more reliable than the competition, so our numbers there are also beating all expectations. And the telephone service we are rolling out is finding very little resistance from customers who find that the quality, reliability and service are equal to anyone’s, and the price is usually better. Add to all that the fact that we have built a very robust infrastructure that can deliver just about anything our customers currently want. That word "currently" is an important one. The new technology being shown at the Show, from switched digital, which increases capacity, to wideband cable modems, which allow staggering internet capability, elicits a sense that there are no future limits to what we can do. Of course, that’s not true. There is still the cloud of Washington hanging over us. Regulation has never worked as well as competition, and we have plenty of competition in every aspect of our business. But there are some who still prefer to tell the market what it wants, and what it should do. Will that stop the catbird from singing? I don’t think so. Our customers appreciate the song we are singing, with lower prices and more service. It may not have been easy, but I think we are now confident of our position at the top of the tree.

The Daily

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