Let Cable Stay Cable

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Cable is still cable and may it ever be thus.

It was a nice try by Torie Clarke, the former NCTA and Pentagon spokesperson turned Comcast adviser and, for one morning last week, panel moderator at the annual gathering of cable-network and cable company public-affairs people here.

Clarke gamely tried to stir things up by saying maybe it was time to move beyond the generic description “cable” to something new that would be grabby, yet somehow would evoke the array of entertainment and convenience and communications and whatnot now captured under that umbrella.

No sale.

Cable periodically has nomenclature issues. A recent one that seemed important was over “video-on-demand.” Not sexy enough, simple enough, catchy enough. Yet no useful alternative has yet really emerged. “Entertainment on-demand” hasn’t had much traction. Cox Communications has been a big advocate: A Nexis search that also included “cable” turned up 45 unduplicated stories containing the term in the last two years. Twenty had Cox in the headline. It’s still far from lingua franca.

Subscription VOD — or, worse, SVOD — is another bummer, many say. A geeky term linked with a word that screams “pay.” (I think it was audience member Char Beales, the CTAM CEO, who during the Clarke-led panel last Monday pointed out two improvements were when “pay” channels became “premium” networks and that cable “subscribers” now are often called “customers.”)

Charter CEO Carl Vogel, who had many fine contributions to the CTPAA panel, some about his own kids, also said “MSO” was a term he could live without. “We’re a cable company,” he said.

MSO happens to be one of the shorthand phrases that help keep our stories from being any longer than they already are, so we kind of like it. But my sensitivity is growing. (We use “customer” a lot these days.)

Beales, picking up the thread as a questioner from the crowd, asked the panel (Vogel; Insight Communications CEO Michael Willner; Rainbow Media CEO Josh Sapan; TV One CEO Johnathan Rodgers and Scripps Networks executive Susan Packard) if it was time to ditch “operator” and its shady connotations. Fair point, but maybe a little oversensitive.

But back to the beginning — I like cable, the term. It’s pithy. All operators (sorry, Char) still use good old two-way physical cable. Cable also is a way for operators to maintain some mindshare over the “cable” programming services that are all on satellite TV now.

Clarke — who also ripped “telephony,” a term I like — polled the panel on what the biz should be called. The votes: Packard, cable; Rodgers, television; Sapan, something like interactive; Vogel, Nirvana (ha ha); and Willner, communications. No one asked me, but the vote here’s for cable.