President Obama’s recent announcement about the change in strategy toward Cuba is something I never expected to see in my lifetime. While historians will eventually debate whether the new policy is successful, we are likewise experiencing a few historical moments in the cable industry. After a brief comment on Cuba, let’s examine three current issues that will possibly catch the eyes of future historians writing about the cable industry. There is no doubt that change is in the air.
When I listened to the President’s speech on the evolving relationship with Cuba, I could not help but think about the role cable programming had in changing the attitudes of Soviet Bloc Europeans toward the West. People in Eastern Europe watched the news on CNN and younger people wanted their MTV. Today, restrictive governments contend with the broadband revolution and the strong presence of social media, as well. Consequently, many countries around the globe promote restricting social media and blocking Internet sites in a way we in the West find appalling. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out in Cuba against the backdrop of the high technology world we live in today.
We are in the midst of an historical moment in the area of cable programming. Billions of dollars of revenue are at stake as content providers rush to deliver programming content online. At the NCTC Independent Show last summer, several of the smaller operators longed for IPTV and the ability to get out of the television business and become broadband providers. IPTV also presents an opportunity for Apple TV and other competitors. Of course, IPTV along with 4K/Ultra HD will present new technological challenges as the need for bandwidth increases. However, I think when historians look at the next few years in retrospect they may declare it the end of the cable era and the beginning of something altogether new.
Speaking of content, it will be hard to forget the recent cyber-terrorism attack on Sony Pictures and the implications for all content providers. This is possibly the first salvo in a cyber-war that will have everyone thinking about security issues and alternate forms of terrorism. It seems inevitable that someone will show the questionable movie at some point given all the publicity, but will it get picked up as a VOD offering? And, would there be further consequences? We certainly feel violated that we lost this freedom of expression, but content executives are not likely to forget this incident; especially since the terrorists seem to have made their point.
Probably the biggest historical moment we will write about in 2015 and beyond involves the FCC, net neutrality and Title II. If history is any clue, the FCC will issue its rulemaking and we will have the inevitable court challenges. Congress will likely enter the fray as populist movements, fueled by social media, put pressure on lawmakers. Poorly conceived legislation could threaten our broadband system that is now among the best in the world. Uncertainty is the enemy of innovation and companies like AT&T have already begun to question future investments. We saw this scenario before when Congress passed the disastrous Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992 over the veto of President George H. W. Bush. The lessons were difficult, hurting both the consumer and the cable industry.
Since today is tomorrow’s history, there will be plenty to write about in the coming year. Stay tuned!
Best wishes for a Happy New Year.
(Larry Satkowiak is president and CEO of The Cable Center, the nonprofit educational arm of the cable industry. The Center preserves cable’s enduring contributions to society, strengthens relationships between cable and academia and unites the industry around the advancement of exceptional customer service. www.cablecenter.org)