The cable operator should control how the viewer uses content delivered over cable networks, said operator panelists during the SCTE ET session "Shiftier and Shiftier: Expanding Choice from Whenever to Wherever and Whatever Device."

The view, of course, wasn’t shared by the Sling Media representative, Dave Mathews, who – and there’s no sarcasm involved with this one – actually titles himself the company’s "forward thinker."

From the cable point of view, the content belongs to the operator and, in an ideal world, will be stored on the network for viewer consumption anywhere at any time rather than on a stationary device like a set-top box in the subscriber residence. That, of course, will only happen when the legal barriers are torn down or all the lawyers killed – "it’s the lawyers that are screwing everything up for us," said Mathews, with tongue in cheek.

In the ideal cable world, "most consumers want (content) packaged and put together for them," said Mitch Weintraub, senior director of new media at Comcast Media Center. "Cable is uniquely positioned to provide a media management agent. We have a unique ability at this point to go forward. Cable needs to jump on that very quickly."

Sling Media has already jumped on it, and while Mathews suggested that the makers of Slingbox would be willing to collaborate with cable operators, he showed no signs of backing away from the market his company is quickly building in the consumer space if cable doesn’t want to play nice. A harbinger? Weintraub saw Sling’s popularity as a sign that cable should change and take more control of its content, even going so far as to suggest that cable could profit targeting advertising to the user’s location when accessing content away from the home base.

"That’s how we get there; that’s how we provide that service," he said. "The cable industry is masterful at local ad insertion. There’s an opportunity to insert advertising even where there wasn’t advertising."

While technically feasible, the idea had some drawbacks from a marketing perspective – yet again proving that marketing and technology are becoming intrinsically linked in the fast-moving telecommunications space. The technology is not even yet developed before people are talking about ways to make money from it.

"If we actually charge money, people will figure how to get around it," said Petr Peterka, distinguished member of the technical staff of Motorola Connected Home Solutions.

There’s also the question of how to reimburse the advertisers, agreed Weintraub. Splitting headaches "When there’s a dollar to be split … how does that split happen?" he asked, to which Mathews replied, "They’re not going to want a split fee; they’re going to want a hijack fee because you’re hijacking their content."

Somewhat the same way, at least to the cable operators, Sling is hijacking its customers.

Sling’s use – or misuse – of cable-delivered content – "Cable is our No. 1 connection to the network," Mathews said – is only the first of what could be many siphons taking cable-delivered content and using cable-supplied high-speed data capabilities to deliver it elsewhere.

"What I would fear – anyone in this room should – is Google," he said. "It’s going to be interesting to see what they do with YouTube. It’s going to be interesting to see how they evolve this … into that laid-back experience."

And, he said, it’s going to be interesting to see how cable maintains an audience that is, at least on a college level, showing indifference to traditional TV as a device on which to view content.

"The TV is one of the first things that goes away (with college kids)," Mathews said.

Greg Whelan, senior marketing manager of Cisco Systems, went even further, noting, "It’s not just colleges; it’s generational."

The solution is easy, concluded Ira Lehrman, vice president of strategic cable initiatives for Tandberg Television – recently, albeit with a strange announcement period, acquired by Arris. "Innovate more than ever so the TV becomes the preferred portal."

Wherever that portal may be. – Jim Barthold

The Daily

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