Backtalk: Readers Talk Turkey

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Not unlike the National Hurricane Center, which has beentracking Bonnie this past week, the editorial staff of Multichannel News has beenreporting on some of the most wrenching changes in the cable industry's history thatoccurred during this stormy summer.

First, AT&T announced that it was acquiringTele-Communications Inc. -- a deal that, if it goes through, will produce another swell ofmassive change for the entire business..

Next, Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, went on ashopping spree and quickly bought up Marcus Cable and Charter. Work is now under way tomerge the two operations -- a process that, like a category-three hurricane, can be mostdisturbing to those employees, especially in Dallas, who are wondering if they are goingto survive this latest storm in cable's history.

Then, Comcast swallowed up Jones Intercable -- anotherdisturbing, climatic change for those in Denver who await their fate, which rests in thehands of the new owners.

Despite those wrenching changes, the vast majority of ourreaders recently said they are very optimistic about the business, according to a MultichannelNews readership study that was recently conducted by Harvey Research.

In order to better serve our readers with the informationthat they want, each summer, Multichannel News hires an outside research firm toask our readers about their needs and how our publication is doing as far as living up totheir expectations.

This year, respondents were particularly high on the stateof the business, and they were most generous with their positive feedback about MultichannelNews, which 97 percent said they read on a regular basis, and which the vast majorityrank as their most important read about the cable business.

As for the state of the cable business, 67 percent of therespondents said they were very optimistic about the overall health of the business; 28percent said they were somewhat optimistic; and only 4 percent said they were somewhatpessimistic. Not one respondent answered "very pessimistic."

Our survey respondents also had big plans under way to rollout new services. Cable modems turned out to be the big winner, with 54 percent of therespondents saying that they planned to roll them out within one year.

Somewhat surprising -- especially when compared with lastyear's survey, which reported a much higher number -- only 44 percent of our respondentssaid they planned to roll out digital television this year.

Another change was the fact that cable operators seem moreinterested this year in launching residential telephony, with 16 percent saying that theyintended to do so within a year.

On the business-to-business telephony side, 11 percent saidthey would be launching that service this year, with only 2 percent of respondents sayingthat they had plans to roll out a cellular-phone service during the same time period.

Looking at their three-year-out business plans, the numbersjumped sharply regarding plans to launch telephony services.

Some 21 percent of the respondents planned to launchresidential telephony during the next three years, and 15 percent said they planned tolaunch business-to-business telephony.

On the cable-modem and digital-TV fronts, many respondentswho were asked to look ahead three years envisioned that by then, they would already havethose launches well under way.

For example, 32 percent said they would begin rolling outcable modems in that time period, with the same percent of respondents saying that theywould start rolling out digital TV.

All of that investment spells good news for the cableindustry, which continues to not only batten down the hatches and ride out the storm, butto constantly reinvent itself for the future.

Again, thanks to all of you who gave your time toparticipate in our survey.

And we particularly wanted to share the good news about theindustry's future at a time when it might not look so bright in some sectors.

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