The last Western Show broke some new ground, staging (finally, some participants said) an all-female executive panel.
Participants said women have always had good opportunities in cable, in part because during the industry's formative days, "no one wanted our jobs," said Oxygen Media chairman and CEO Geraldine Laybourne.
"They laughed at us," said Laybourne, the former Nickeolodeon chief. "Now, cable is holding up half the sky."
After musing about the role of women, the executives discussed the same issues that excite and dismay their male counterparts, such as successfully leveraging the $76 billion in infrastructure the industry has made in its plant over the last few years.
Charter Communications Inc. executive vice president and COO Maggie Bellville is enthused over the potential of the Diego interactive set-top. Nomi Bergman, executive vice president of strategy and development for Advance/Newhouse Communications thinks a robust user interface is key to making video-on-demand a bigger business.
The deployment of digital video recorders remains an issue of both excitement and dismay. The programmers on the panel are fearful of "bad" DVRs that allow viewers to automatically delete commercials unseen, jeopardizing cable's dual revenue stream.
Conversely, Bellville said she doesn't think the ability to skip commercials is a bad thing. It at least could lead to some more compelling ads, she added.
Why is the Super Bowl the only time of year advertisers produce creative and compelling ads people actually tune into watch? Bellville asked.
Executives will be closely watching for signals about the DVR strategy of direct-broadcast satellite provider DirecTV Inc., once Fox parent News Corp. completes its acquisition of its parent, Hughes Electronics Corp.
E! Entertainment Television CEO Mindy Herman said the brilliance of News Corp. is its predictability. Therefore, domestic operators can take their cue from the strategy deployed by its United Kingdom DBS operation, British Sky Broadcasting plc.
That service gave away digital boxes to get penetration. That caused short-term losses, but the strategy worked over the long term, she said.
"We may have to do free [DVR] boxes to get market share," she predicted.
The executives said cable must also counterattack DBS marketing strategies such as the EchoStar Corp. ads portraying cable as a pig at the trough.
Cable did not challenge DBS on its marketing assertions that it is the low-cost video alternative, Belleville said. "In reality they've raised rates faster, they've got lots of hidden charges."
Operators must communicate that message to consumers, she said.