The Meaning of Multichannel

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Welcome to the first edition of the next 25 years of Multichannel News.

OK, so, technically, it’s the fifth issue we’ve put out since turning 25 on August 29.

Whichever, your business has changed radically in the last quarter-century; and it’s our responsibility to give you the news and professional insight that makes you winners in customer satisfaction and financial satisfaction — the bottom line — for decades to come.

The first change you may have noticed is the tagline atop the front page.

Multiple media. Multiple channels. Multiple strategies.

It’s the essence of what will change — what is changing — about being an operator of a cable system — or any system for delivering lots of video programming. Or providing programming for those systems.

This is not Aug. 29, 1980. Back then, the idea that you could devote a 24-hour channel of television programming to a single subject — news — was a radical idea. Indeed, Cable News Network was losing $1 million a month. Ted Turner had to reassure attendees of the Western Show that his baby would turn a profit, within a year, and be around for the long haul.

For that matter, the idea that you could get 40 channels of programming on your home TV was radical, too. And the consumer’s willingness to pay for television, another somewhat alien idea.

Skip forward to today. Yes, the cable is the dominant fire hose for delivering video programming to the home. Indeed, 370 channels are vying for attention. Depending on who’s counting, slightly more than two-thirds of all TV households now subscribe to cable.

But cable’s dominance is no longer unchallenged. DirecTV Inc. — the satellite-to-the-home service — has 14.45 million subscribers, more than any cable operator, except Comcast Corp. DirecTV and EchoStar Communications Corp. combined have 25.4 million subscribers, more than the total cable universe when Multichannel News was born.

Now, the number of multichannel video-programming service operators in any given market will expand. Monopolies are over. Telephone companies, wireless broadband players, utility companies, even broadcast networks want a piece of the multichannel action.

And, oh, cable operators are already supplying an alternate means of delivering video programming, in unlimited slices, to their customers. It’s called Internet access.

So, multiple channels also will mean that programming itself will be carried into the home on multiple channels of distribution.

To wit: Ripe TV (page 24) will deliver 10 hours of male-oriented programming on demand, over cable, the Internet and mobile wireless systems. And Google (page 3) wants to be the “universal switchboard” for the world’s mountains of digits that you will watch as video shorts and longs.

But carried on those channels won’t just be video. It’ll also be incalculable mountains of music, books (print and aural), documents of all types and conversations, both in text and by voice. Narrowcasting is giving way to personal casting, whether it’s the radio-program-like podcasts or the multimedia coverage of Live 8 concerts by America Online or on-the-spot war coverage of a Kevin Sites for Yahoo!

If you’re in the cable (or satellite or Internet or wireless or telephone) business, you’re going to need multiple strategies for delivering all these media over so many different channels.

Multiple media. Multiple channels. Multiple strategies.

For programmers and distributors, Multichannel News will be the bible of this next quarter-century of collision in all kinds of content and delivery systems. We will dig in to keep you ahead of the game, as the kaleidoscope of multimedia content and services speeds up, and the playing field — and players — keep changing. And we will help you look for all imaginable ways of generating a buck from the change.

As part of this, you will see some other changes in this edition of Multichannel News, including the creation of a Technology section, replacing Broadband Week, and a new look for the monthly On Demand report. Other sections have been reorganized into a sequence that we hope you will find more logical. The book will also conclude with the community side of this business, who’s doing what (“People & Calendar”), what they look like (“Freeze Frame”) and what you should know about what they’re up to that you didn’t know (“Through the Wire”).

You also should know that Mike Demenchuk, whose fingerprints have been on virtually every page of Multichannel News, has been promoted to Managing Editor, effective immediately.

And there is a new editor-in-chief as well. You can write me at tst@reedbusiness.com, to tell me what you think we can do to better help you profit from the multichannel battles to come.

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