Roberts: Innovation Key to Winning Race

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San Francisco -- Despite threats from telephone companies in the video and data business, Comcast Corp. chairman and CEO Brian Roberts told a packed audience at the National Show general session here Monday that continued innovation from cable operators will win the day.

“Fiber-optics is not going to win -- it’s what you do with it,” Roberts told the audience. “One of the things that is great about the cable industry is that we have never lost our strategic go-for-it mentality. We just completed a $90 billion rewiring of America with fiber-optics.”

He continued, “If there is one thing you should take from that experience, it is that we should not lose our aggressiveness on innovating. This industry is continually adjusting despite the pressures we sometimes get from the investment community to slow down. If we innovate, I think it’s ours to win.”

Innovation was the hot topic at the session, which also included Cisco Systems Inc. CEO John Chambers, Google Inc. cofounder and president of products Larry Page, America Online Inc. chairman and CEO Jon Miller and DreamWorks SKG cofounder Jeffrey Katzenberg.

With products like video-on-demand, high-speed data and digital-video recorders already established and cable telephony on the verge of being rolled out nationwide, operators should continue to look for products that address customer needs and wants, the panel said.

“It’s not what [customers] are buying today, it’s what will they buy five years from now,” Chambers said. “The key is: Will it be residential on a device or residential on the network? We have a bias toward the network, but we listen to what our customers are saying.”

Page talked about the growth of download speeds, saying that with added bandwidth, Internet users will be able to access video via the Google search engine. A new service, which should be launched in a few days, will allow Google users to submit their own video clips.

Roberts noted that the speeds will only get higher. Cable operators currently deliver 4-megabit-per-second speeds using only one 6-megahertz channel out of an average capacity of 750 MHz for the average upgraded cable system.

“We haven’t even started to scratch the surface without having to rebuild,” Roberts said.

He added that Comcast is also focusing on technology that will enhance the customer experience for existing products, pointing to his company’s deals with Motorola Inc. to develop a next-generation conditional-access system and with Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. to develop interactive program guides.