Backtalk: The Revolution Is Here


Whoever said change is evolutionary, rather thanrevolutionary? I don't know, but whoever that scholar was is dead wrong when it comes tocable's metamorphosis of the past five years.

Take it from me -- someone who just came up for air from anumb-nuts project that had me combing through our now-yellowed, bound issues of MultichannelNews for the past five years.

It was a dirty job, but I found some real gems on the frontpages of the issues just from January 1994, and I'll share a few of them with you soyou'll see what I mean.

For example, do you remember those much-heraldedvideo-dialtone trials that had the cable industry quaking in its boots just five yearsago?

I honestly barely remembered them, but they sure lookpretty scary in print, even now. One scary scenario had PacTel entering into an alliancewith AT&T to spend $16 billion to build a broadband network. That same week, GTE andAT&T agreed to a similar joint venture.

Nothing much happened there, and today, our front pagelooks decidedly different. Now, only five years later, we write weekly updates as AT&Tawaits final approval -- which it should get next month -- for its pending acquisition ofTele-Communications Inc.

And you do remember that in January 1994, Bell Atlantic wasthe one awaiting approval of its deal to acquire TCI?

In what now looks like a pretty hilarious article, we hadVice President Al Gore heaping gobs of praise on Bell Atlantic's and TCI's plans to link25 percent of the nation's public elementary and secondary schools to interactivetelecommunications networks free-of-charge.

Looking at the industry -- and at our own publication, bythe way -- over this past five-year period is kind of like looking at that gangly geek ofa teen-ager next door who seemingly has become an adult just overnight.

In cable, that is happening on all fronts, most visibly onthe programming side. In what was one of the more memorable and definitely the scariestCableACE Awards ceremonies ever, in 1994, a 6.6 earthquake shook up the Los Angelesenvirons and hundreds of cable executives who were there for that National CableTelevision Association event.

Today, the industry, which sports more high-qualityprogramming, no longer needs that platform to gain recognition for its programming, andthe CableACEs died with barely a whimper, as cable now vies with the big broadcast boysfor Emmy Awards.

But clearly at the epicenter of this revolution in cable in1999 is the Internet -- a phenomena that has not only turned cable's economic modelsinside out, but that has touched on just about every business on this planet.

I actually did a double take when last week's issue cameout of the oven: It read more like PC Week than Multichannel News. Everystory on the front page had something to do with cable delivering high-speed access to theInternet.

Last week, we reported that Bell Atlantic was teaming upwith America Online Inc, making its ADSL service available to AOL subscribers for a verycompetitive $42 per month. Likewise, SBC Communications, the San Antonio-based Baby Bell,plans to roll out ADSL in seven states.

And within the first three pages of last week's issue,there were four separate articles devoted to @Home's various trials and tribulations, asother ISPs beseeched federal and local regulators to make AT&T and TCI unbundle it --all of that while @Home combated a plague of service problems in Connecticut and RhodeIsland.

And this week, we again write on page one about @Homeacquiring Excite Inc., a search-engine Web site, for $6.7 billion.

Five years ago, cable looked like it was in for a videobattle with the telcos. Now, cable -- which again has a head start -- is competing withthe telephone companies in the high-speed-data arena.

Judging from my blast into the past and the reality oftoday's headlines, no one's five-year plan is worth the paper that it's printed on.