Beach Blanket Wisdom

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Some disturbing analysis released here last week casts serious doubt about the current effectiveness of one of cable TV's key new services.

"Here's our story, we're black and blue." So began one report, a sort of musical white paper prepared by executives from within the cable industry's own ranks at an event attended by fellow cable executives.

"Servers, routers, fiber too. Spent too much dough on the upgrade, with no real clue how we'll get paid …"

It continued: "Borrowed billions on a wing and a prayer. But Joe Sixpack – he doesn't care. Now come on people, listen to me: Nobody's watching VOD."

The study's conclusions, penned by Pete Moran, were sung to the tune of Dion's "Runaround Sue." Professionals from a troupe called Rave Reviews carried the tune, while cable executives dressed in colorful beach-movie garb acted as the chorus.

Ironically, the depressing message — and others like it — was delivered amid the splendor of The Cable Center, a monument to the cable industry's glory days.

HDTV, another of cable's supposed panaceas, is a necessary evil to keep gadget geeks from defecting to satellite, but don't look for it to add much to cable operators' bottom lines for quite a while.

That was the stark outlook of another essay, also delivered here. It was "performed" like the old Jan and Dean hit, "The Little Old Lady From Pasadena," as adapted by Erica Stull of Adelphia Communications.

"Every early adopter has a new ambition. Gotta watch a lot of high definition. Clear as a bell and lookin' keen on his brand-new, super-size plasma screen.

"And everyone in cable is on a mission, give the early adopter high definition. Won't turn a profit for a few more years, it's the terror of quarterly financiers."

"If the cable operator doesn't grant his wishes, you can bet he'll be out shoppin' for satellite dishes. He's gonna break your heart now sooner or later. Pretty soon he'll be bitching to the regulators."

The consensus seemed to be that cable's traditional best source of growing revenue — raising basic rates — continues to be the best prospect for emerging from the current doldrums.

One such plea recounted here sounded suspiciously like the Beach Boys hit "Wouldn't It Be Nice." Actually, it was fully credited as such by author/adapter Paul Braun, vice president of programming with Time Warner Cable's National Division.

"Hope they raise the price and get stocks higher. And then all the top types keep their jobs. Otherwise it's ready, aim, retire, and bring in a brand new bunch of slobs. And if they don't make everything all better, you'll see that their careers are in the shredder.

"Gotta get the price to just shoot straight up, in a way where no one goes to jail."

Overall, attendees at the event seemed pleased. In fact, they danced in the aisles as the event came to a roaring conclusion with a song called "Cable Survivor Finale."

Unlike a lot of cable analysis, actual results will ensue from this, the ninth edition of Positively Cable, an annual event staged by the Denver chapter of Cable Positive. This year's theme: "Beach Blanket Broadband!" More than $106,000 was raised to support the Volunteers of America's Rainbow House, a Denver day-care center serving children infected with or affected by the HIV/AIDS virus. Good show.

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