Backtalk: Happy Y2K-1 From Us

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In keeping with our long-standing tradition, the staff ofMultichannel News, in this first issue of the new year, extends it wishes to all ourreaders.

If some of our comments sound a little churlish this year,understand they were gathered under duress -- during the week between Christmas and NewYear's Day -- when nary a soul was working except our hale and hearty holidayskeletal crew here.

Looking ahead is always dicier than looking back. And trulythe crystal balls seems murkier this go-round. For 1999 or Y2K-1 -- as some pundits arenow calling it -- could be quite a stumper.

Will Congress actually get around to cable legislationissues, or will they get brushed under the carpet as the Senate grapples with merelycensuring or getting rid of President Clinton?

Aside from that little vagary, will the regulators give thegreen light to the Tele-Communications/AT&T deal? If so, will the floodgates be thrownwide open, with other mergers following? Or will ankle-snapping wannabes like AmericaOnline succeed in forcing AT&T to open its network to Internet competitors and scotchother future deals, scaring away other potential investors?

With that backdrop of uncertainty in mind...

Multichannel News Washington editor Ted Hearn hopesthat 1999 will be another big year for mergers. In fact, he'd like to see one happenbetween Bell Atlantic Corp. and NBC.

Together, he predicts, they could promise the rapidintroduction of "xHDTV," a high-speed digital video product that will allowconsumers to see their favorite TV sitcoms in about 45 seconds. "Get ready for'Mustn't Blink TV,'" Hearn advises.

Finance editor Kent Gibbons says he is a contrarian amongthe bystanders and investors who salivate at the prospect of information-controllingbehemoths -- AT&T, Microsoft, etc. -- buying out all the remaining sizable cableoperators. "Here's to retaining a few chatty entrepreneurs!" he toasts.

With all the talk about mergers and the convergence andinteractivity that should happen, our Webmaster Dave Levin simply wishes that it wouldjust happen.

"Why do I always have to turn off my TV and log on to or www.tvguide.comjust to find out what's on my cable system," asks a rather grumpy Levin, whojust quit smoking, his New Year's gift to himself and us.

Certainly 1998 was a banner year for cable in terms ofexpanding new product lines, especially digital services from cable operators. But theproblem is the new digital networks remain mostly unavailable in most cable homes,including that of Linda Moss, our programming editor.

"It pains me to say this, but there are too many timeswhen I tune in to my 70-plus Comcast channel lineup and there's still nothing on towatch -- a lament I share with my fellow New Jerseyite, Bruce Springsteen. Someone, anyone-- Gerry Laybourne, Ted Turner, Steve Chao, Bob Wright, John Hendricks, Tom Freston --change that," Moss wishes.

Senior editor Jim Forkan has his gripes about what'son the screen as well. "The cable nets should stop copying the broadcasters'habit of interrupting end credits of series, movies and specials with irritating promovoiceovers," he wishes.

Warts and all, it's pretty clear that the demand fornew products from the cable industry will soar in 1999. Multichannel News Internationaleditor Janet Stilson wants a multiplexer that will allow her to be in three countries atthe same time. Being sensitive about hyping users' expectations, she says she'llsettle for "a digital compression system that will compact 36 hours in a 24-hour timeframe."

Marketing editor Monica Hogan has another tall order."My wish is that cable operators and consumer electronics retailers will find a wayto work together to jump-start the high-speed cable modem market."

Multichannel News editor Andy Grossman is quite blunt abouthis wish: "Sources must go on the record."

In the scary department, deputy editor Carol Jordan, thevoice of sanity who makes this magazine happen, wishes for "the fortitude to meet allthe new challenges to come my way in 1999, and I'm sure there will be plenty."

And for me, the person who just signed some prettyserious-looking documents from the Information Technology department attesting that all ofthe editorial computers for the three magazines that I now oversee are "Y2Kcompliant," well, I hope I was right.