Pride in Our Past, Optimism for The Future

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The 2004 National Show — the 53rd annual National Cable & Telecommunications Association convention — kicks off in New Orleans this week, with the theme, “Cable to the Nth Degree.”

It’s our chance, as always, to take stock of where the industry’s been and where it’s going. As our theme indicates, it’s been quite a ride, and we still have a ways to go.

The storyline behind this year’s show? It’s that cable is responding to strong consumer demand for new broadband services, leading to exponential growth and improvement in products, services, content, and consumer satisfaction.

CHALLENGE & OPPORTUNITY

Our business today faces a unique array of dynamic issues creating both challenge and opportunity. To name just a few: On the operator side of the business, we’re fighting to grow our core video business; moving swiftly to deploy new services; fending off competition from every quarter; engaging with myriad companies and business partners from within and outside the industry; and working on brand, image, and marketing to re-define ourselves as providers of broadband services.

On the programmer side, as the number of channels continues to grow, networks are facing increasing competition for eyeballs; scrapping for advertising dollars; managing costs for production and talent; adapting to new technologies that are changing the way we watch television; and grappling with consolidation and new business combinations.

While the challenges and opportunities are varied for all of us, there is one great common denominator in our business. We’re all bringing advanced broadband services to people in their homes. All of our new services and content are designed to enhance the lives of our customers and viewers, so the home continues to be our principal target of opportunity.

It was that thought that gave rise to the concept of the Broadband Home, the extraordinary 7,000-square-foot pavilion that’s helping anchor the exhibit floor of the show. As an industry, we want to demonstrate that the great new services we’ve been touting for years are actually available via broadband today, and the Broadband Home exhibit is a chance to display them in one place.

For some people, it may be hard to see beyond the bells and whistles of many of the sophisticated new services that have been installed in the home: A large mirror that converts into an HDTV display; a Jacuzzi with a built-in, state-of-the-art television screen; exercise equipment that monitors your vital signs and then transmits them to health-care professionals anywhere within the reach of broadband; educational applications that can offer our children glimpses into major museums the world over; a refrigerator with a built-in broadband-enabled calendar and message center to help everyone keep track of family activities.

As Multichannel News editor in chief Marianne Paskowski noted in these pages a couple of weeks ago, it’s all pretty amazing stuff — and that doesn’t even take into account the hundreds of channels of top-quality television and audio programming, on-demand services and HDTV packages that we’ve already begun to take for granted. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this is broadband technology of the present, and all of these services are available for purchase or trial somewhere in the country today. The Broadband Home shows that cable indeed has made good on its promise to deliver broadband services across America.

Clearly, the products and services in demand by consumers are broadly available today from cable. With cable HDTV, consumers see TV in a whole new way: stunning resolution with theater-quality sound. With digital video recorders and video-on-demand, customers can watch what they want, when they want to, all with the click of a remote. Our digital cable service offers more channels, more choices and an easy-to-use on-screen guide to help navigate and customize viewing choices.

Cable’s broadband Internet service is faster, easier and more reliable than ever.

POSITIVE IMPACT

All of these advanced broadband services are having a substantial and positive effect on the lives of consumers, changing the way we entertain our families and communicate with each other.

Cable programming, meanwhile, is flourishing. Growth in new programming services hasn’t slowed, with more than 330 national cable channels available today, up from 306 at the end of 2002. This kind of choice and value are naturally drawing growing numbers of viewers. Viewership of ad-supported basic cable programming now regularly surpasses viewership of broadcast-network programming in total day and primetime viewing.

All of this growth has been great for the U.S. economy. Largely on the strength of our $85 billion investment in network upgrades, the industry directly and indirectly accounted for 1.1 million jobs at the beginning of 2003, spread across all 50 states — and we’re creating new jobs every day. Since 1996, we’ve upgraded more than one million miles of “plant,” bringing the opportunity for broadband services to more than 85% of the nation’s homes.

We contribute more than $2 billion each year in franchise-fee revenues to cities and towns and provide hundreds of millions of dollars each year in public-service programming and public-affairs initiatives.

These accomplishments underscore the confidence that will be evident in New Orleans this week. It’s pride in our achievements and optimism for the future — and no doubt that as these trends continue, we’re taking “Cable to the Nth Degree.”

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