Atlanta -- During a general session panel at the
National Show last week, Tele-Communications Inc. president Leo J. Hindery Jr. cautioned
his cable brethren against feeling too giddy.
While everyone was down in the dumps in 1997 in New
Orleans, the prevailing mood in Atlanta seemed to be euphoria, he said. But there's
no guarantee every customer is going to swallow everything operators put out there, the
new National Cable Television Association chairman said. Bottom line: "It ain't
But during meetings with analysts, Hindery was very much in
keeping with the upbeat atmosphere, some analysts said. When one analyst asked about
continued strong growth from direct-broadcast satellite providers, for example, Hindery
replied that no one on Wall Street will be disappointed with TCI's first-quarter
subscriber growth when the numbers come out on Wednesday.
Most analysts figure TCI added around 100,000 subscribers
during the quarter.
TCI spokeswoman LaRae Marsik pointed out "there's
a difference between being pleased with results" and overconfidence. And Comcast
Corp. vice chairman Julian Brodsky, during his Vanguard Award acceptance speech, quoted
Hindery's warning that the biggest potential pitfall to cable's continued
success would be the industry's own "hubris."
But the fact that the once-battered industry had to be
reminded to temper its own enthusiasm was as good a sign as any that times are good.
Stock prices are up. System values are up. New services are
rolling out. And it appears subscribers are buying.
Goldman Sachs & Co. cable analyst Lou Kerner said he
thought one of the most noteworthy aspects of the show was the large number of investors
who attended the MSO briefings. He figured there were twice as many as typically show up
at such events. Other highlights: Video-on-demand systems are rolling out and early
telephony results from the likes of U S West Media Group and Cablevision Systems Corp. are
"off the charts."
Not that there weren't a few discordant notes. Aside
from the blowup over TCI and high- definition television, there are still worries over
rate regulation and potential congressional hearings over the issue.
NCTA president Decker Anstrom, in his keynote address,
warned operators about the backlash that could come with steep price increases.
"Let's not push the envelope" in retail and wholesale pricing, he advised.
Adelphia Communications Corp. chairman John Rigas, in an
interview, said re-regulation was his only real concern now. But he said he thought most
operators would heed Anstrom's advice and keep increases reasonable: His company
probably will raise rates 5 percent to 6 percent, he said.
"I think we learned our lesson" with the last
rate controls, Rigas said.
Most of all, operators have to build on what they've
done so far in signing up cable-modem subscribers and marketing other new services.
"It's really coming down to execution,"