Keep Planting Seeds


Last week started out pretty gloomily for the cable guys. Everyone knew the FCC's plan to let big broadcasters get even bigger was coming, but that didn't mean everyone in the media biz had to be pleased about it.

The NCTA was officially neutral, but that just left it up to small-operator lobbyists to make the noise about how it can't be a good thing to aid the same companies that already own broadcast and cable networks and use them like a battle-axe against operators (sorry, Martha).

Then Cox Communications Inc. CEO Jim Robbins stirred things up, continuing his recent rampage against retransmission-consent rules. He bluntly pointed out that the new changes could make it easier for big broadcasters to "force carriage of unproven cable channels" on cable and squeeze out bandwidth operators would rather use for something else, like USDA-approved HDTV.

Cox Communications and its parent, Cox Enterprises Inc., are pretty vertically integrated — they collectively own cable systems, broadcast stations and newspapers. But they don't have any mergers brewing, so Robbins apparently feels free to say what he thinks, thankfully.

Also thankfully, the pall cleared pretty quickly, thanks to the onrushing National Show and the optimism it always inspires.

No room on cable for services other than those forced on operators by retrans hogs? Lots of new start-up networks apparently didn't get the memo.

Several of them sent us press releases about content deals they're signing (Brief Original Broadcasts), new headquarters they're moving to because of the growth they expect (Wheels TV) or the haul of fresh jokes they're stockpiling (JokeVision).

Elsewhere in the magazine this week, you'll see long explications of how hard it is to be a start-up network these days. You know: the impact of consolidation, both among programmers and operators; the retrans effect; and operators' seeming indifference to new programming services, while the costs for existing services are rising and bandwidth is needed for new and profitable nonvideo services.

But even with plenty of people around to tell the creative and money types that the world's about to end, some are still out planting trees.

Our programming editor, Tom Umstead, started banging out a chart of announced start-ups last Thursday, and it didn't take him long to get the list beyond a dozen — even excluding such nascent launched services as the Tennis Channel and College Sports TV. Box TV: The Boxing Channel and iNetwork, targeting women ages 18 to 24, just got announced last week, in time for the NCTA fest.

How deep might the roots run for such seedlings as MBC News Network or Anime Network?

Operators might be annoyed at ESPN these days, but will they really be rushing to fill holes in their lineup with such newbies as The Sportsman Channel, The Football Network or BlackBelt Network?

Not meaning to belittle anyone here. There are lots of good ideas out there, and a lot of them might be executed real well, given the chance, and be worthwhile stops on a channel surf through a $10 digital tier. Good luck to all of them.

Much more fun to plant trees than to complain about the landscape.