Cable Chiefs Kick Off Final Western Show


Anaheim, Calif. -- Cable chiefs rang out familiar themes at the Western Show’s opening session here Wednesday: Sports-programming costs are out of control; rolling out new services such as HDTV and video-on-demand will help to stave off direct-broadcast satellite competition; and digital-video recorders pose a significant threat to the traditional advertising model.

The panel featured Comcast Corp. CEO Brian Roberts, Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt, Cablevision Systems Corp. president Tom Rutledge, Adelphia Communications Corp. CEO Bill Schleyer and Charter Communications Inc. CEO Carl Vogel. Cox Communications Inc. chief Jim Robbins was a no-show.

Rising sports costs have dominated cable convention panels for many years, and Roberts suggested that the problem won’t change anytime soon.

"I don’t think it’s ever over," Roberts said on the dynamic of programmers overpaying for sports rights and attempting to pass the costs on to subscribers. "There seems to be no control of the underlying costs," Britt added.

Moving to talk of DirecTV Inc.’s exclusive "NFL Sunday Ticket" National Football League out-of-market package, Schleyer said the damage has already been done in terms of cable subscribers who switched to DirecTV in order to get every football game on Sunday. "I think it’s run its course," Schleyer said.

The Adelphia chief had the crowd rolling at several points during the session, including when he noted that Adelphia "uniquely solved the programming problem by declaring bankruptcy."

While some programmers continue to sound alarms about the threat that ad-skipping DVRs poses to their ad revenue, Roberts suggested that there are other ways they can protect their ad dollars.

"My pitch back to content companies is: Why do you want the world to go get TiVo so they can skip the commercials? Why don’t you do video-on-demand more, more and more?" Roberts said.

Moving to cable modems, Roberts said Comcast -- which recently upped its cable-modem speed in some systems from 1.5 megabits per second to 3 mbps -- is looking to go much faster. "Just like we planned on 500 channels, we’re planning on 500 megabits," he said.

Added Rutledge: "The killer app is the use of the spectrum of the cable system."

The morning session kicked off with a salute to outgoing California Cable & Telecommunications Association president Spencer Kaitz, who received a standing ovation from the audience.

National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Roberts Sachs also spoke, and he took a shot at EchoStar Communications Corp. for running its "Stop Feeding the Cable Pig" ad campaign.

"Stop feeding the consumers garbage when it comes to your anti-cable advertising," he said. "You can compete vigorously without wallowing in the mud."