Competition's Great for Cable

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Las Vegas — A trio of top cable executives kicked off The Cable Show's general session here last Monday (May 7), assuring the audience gathered at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center that cable companies will continue to fight off competitive threats with new and better products.

Already cable operators have been ahead of the competitive curve with high-speed Internet and video-on-demand services and voice services from cable operators are growing at a quickening pace.

At the general session, moderator and Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing CEO Char Beales mentioned a startling statistic — at Cox Communications, for every video customer the Atlanta-based cable operator loses to a phone company, Cox gains 50 voice customers from the incumbent phone carrier.

Comcast chief operating officer Steve Burke said that the ratio isn't quite as high at his company, but he envisions Comcast will continue to outpace the competition for a long time to come.

“I think their ability to get our video subscribers will be more limited than our ability to get their phone subscribers,” Burke said. “It's going to stay that way for a long time.”

Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt said that one of the ways cable has managed to stay ahead of the competitive curve is by continuously introducing new products.

He mentioned Time Warner's much-ballyhooed “Start Over” program replay service, which allows customers to view programs from the beginning if the service is activated within its original airing time, and such iterations as Look Back, which will allow customers to replay programs that are at least 48-hours old, and Catch Up, which would let customers view a few past episodes of a series to “catch up” with the story line.

“I think we've just begun to scratch the surface,” Britt said.

Burke said that “day-and-date” trials — where a video-on-demand movie is available on cable simultaneously with the DVD-rental release — conducted by the company have been encouraging. And it has inspired him to think about taking the technology a step further.

Spider-Man (3) came out this weekend and you could imagine a situation where we put Spider-Man on in a pay-per-view fashion, concomitant with the opening weekend and charge $30 or $50 or some price that is high enough that it obviously is going to have some effect on theatrical distribution,” Burke said.

He added, “I'm sure movie theaters may not like that kind of competition but at the end of the day, consumers want what they want when they want it and it's our job to be creative with breaking down those windows.”

Later, Burke said that Comcast has had some early talks with studios about such a service.

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