Takeaways from The Cable Show, Part 1

Bryce MarshallLast week was The Cable Show, an event held by the NCTA (National Cable & Telecommunications Association) in Boston, which promises once per year to be the nexus of the cable and broadband universe from both a technology and a media perspective. As the folks at the NCTA will have you believe, “cable” (a term I’ll use to inclusively describe cable TV and broadband internet) is the cutting-edge media delivery vehicle of the present and the future. In their words:

“From multi-screen video services to cloud-based business applications to innovations in personalized content delivery, cable is powering new definitions of content, conversation and community.”

However, a poll of many consumers today may reveal a perception gap: one where consumers see cable as the expensive, customer-service-challenged, subterranean-hardwire technology of a bygone era.

The truth is probably somewhere in between. The cable industry has been slow to embrace emerging models of content distribution, making TV programming available across the web. Consumers typically undervalue the vast amount of content and data they have fairly reliable access to through the cable infrastructure.

The players at The Cable Show have a voice and a large role in shaping how technology is leveraged by the cable industry giants, how content creators and media distributors make their programming available, and how consumers access this content.

Why does this matter to Knotice, our clients, our peers, the readers of The Lunchpail, and the general consumer audience overall? Here’s part one of a summary of the relevant topics, talking points and takeaways from The Cable Show. (check back later this week for part two!)

1. It’s all about Video

There can be no debate that video is the king of content, and consumers are demanding video content regardless of digital device type or screen size. Most recently wireless providers have been surprised if not delighted to find that whether from smartphones or tablets, there is consumer demand for it. Content providers, networks and portals are racing to better incorporate video into their offerings, and exploring all avenues for adding top tier video content. This puts the video content auteurs (think HBO or NBCUniversal) in a very interesting position of strength because for consumers access is only as important as the quality content they can view. From a different perspective the cable industry is uniquely positioned to deliver video content owing to a large degree to their broadband delivery network. While you debate the merits of that previous sentence, keep in mind the following two points…

2. Is Cable a bargain?

Here’s an interesting data point for the sake of perspective: The average US cable household is tuning in for 400 hours of television a month, at an average monthly cost of $75 from their cable provider. Or, less than $0.20 per hour for access to a huge and accessible library of appointment television and on-demand video content, much of it now in HD.

So cable broadband is an effective, mature, and one could argue, at some level a cost-effective delivery network considering the sheer bandwidth that the television consumer expects. If the general consumer audience applied this same standard to wireless networks or individual content providers it would not be tenable. How many gigabytes is an hour of HD video? Consumers distrust cable as a connectivity solution because the customer experience can be bumpy and you are locked into a lump payment for a lot of things you don’t want in addition to the things you do, unlike Hulu or Netflix. But the bandwidth is there to deliver more – potentially.

3. WiFi vs. Wireless

Call it NCTA propaganda if you want, but there are interesting discussions on whether wireless networks have the potential to catch up to or even keep up with consumer demand for video, that right now is being fed in large part by cable and broadband internet connections? And if the wireless networks could support that consume need, at what cost? Consumers who use a wireless home network on top of a broadband internet connection realize the performance benefits versus 3G or 4G wireless when they connect within their home WiFi cocoon.

The big players in cable – names like Comcast and Time Warner Cable – reportedly are teaming together to extend WiFi networks to each other’s customers. In essence so a Comcast internet customer could tap into a Time Warner Cable public WiFi network at no additional cost, sort of like wireless roaming. It seems to me that the play here by the cable providers – who service XX million households among those operators announced in the partnership – is to create their own umbrella of connectivity that is at least modestly wide ranging but delivering a vastly greater connection than 4G wireless. It may not be as broad as a wireless network, but if you own a tablet and want to do some serious content consumption you as a consumer will be looking for that WiFi connection. The cable operators want to leverage their broadband networks and position their brands as synonymous with fast and video.

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