Sought Worries, Found Few

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At the CTAM Summit in Boston I went off in search of people really worried about the future of the cable business.

I didn’t find many. This was a cable show, after all, and most people here had jobs.

Even vendors in the new-media lab were optimistic, seeing potential for lots of rollouts of ITV applications and related stuff they’re selling.

There’s an undercurrent of concern that it takes a crisis to shake cable companies out of their monopoly heritage complacency — offset by the competitive creativity you see in the funny TV ads that won cablers Mark Awards.

There’s enough to worry about. Low stock prices can stifle spending on new services and on marketing. Rupert Murdoch’s impact on DirecTV hasn’t been felt yet but, as was mentioned to me, he’s not in this for 15 or 20 million customers — he wants to be No. 1.

The phone-company threat to finally make DSL achieve cable modem-like growth has proven true, and the video part of the bundle will come eventually.

I sought out one CTAM panel Tuesday where some smart folks were talking about the future of the video platform. They had some interesting concerns.

Fox Cable Networks affiliate chief Lindsay Gardner said “we need to become smarter about younger demographics” that are becoming key decision-makers. Funny ads with the likes of Danny DeVito or Dan Aykroyd increasingly aren’t going to resonate with people now in their 20s, he said.

Starz Encore’s Bob Clasen repeated Starz’s longtime lament that on-demand guides are poor showcases for cool services. Microsoft TV’s Lynne Elander — who did concede that while at Cox, she was “personally responsible for launching three guides that were suboptimal” — was able to reassure that Microsoft will help cable keep pace in a world where the Internet has trained us to expect to find whatever we want in a few keystrokes.

Comcast’s former general counsel, Terry Bienstock, pointed out Comcast was so concerned about making the guide great that it bought one from Gemstar-TV Guide and then gave more business to Digeo and Microsoft to keep competition going.

As for whether empowered consumers will be downloading video and bypassing the cable company’s 200 channels, Bienstock’s take was that cable “as the ultimate distributor, as the company that has the wire into the home that has the most capacity, [is] going to be fine, I believe, under any model.”

He also said: “I think the on-demand platform is going to be the primary marketing tool in the cable industry. I think it won’t be farfetched to say that cable will be advertised as have access to 10,000 TV shows and movies — and you can also have 150 or 200 linear channels to go along with it.”

Something for everyone, in other words.

No worries there.

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