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October 30, 2013

Cable in the Age of Innovation


    Larry Satkowiak

The cable industry is one of the best examples of the American free enterprise system that can be found anywhere. At The Cable Center, we have characterized the current generation of cable as the “Age of Innovation,” a concept that was recently reinforced for me at the annual SCTE Expo in Atlanta. The backbone of the free enterprise system is entrepreneurship, innovation, and competition…and I saw strong evidence of all three.

During the week, Sean “Diddy” Combs officially launched Revolt TV. Entrepreneurs in this industry have habitually identified an unmet need and risked their capital and reputation on their vision. Likewise, Jennifer Lopez is also on this list of “new cable entrepreneurs.” There are still many opportunities for people with vision, but it involves a considerable amount of hard work to be successful. As I am sure Oprah Winfrey and others would testify, name recognition is important to build a brand. However, to accept the challenges and risks of running a new network is not for the faint of heart.

The spirit of innovation among the technology vendors on the Expo floor was absolutely amazing. Comcast certainly has an exciting vision for the future with its X2 platform. The vendors I talked to at Arris, CommScope, CISCO, Alpha Technologies, NetCracker, and many others, are also on the cutting edge of what promises to be an exciting decade of building a completely new industry. Netflix was in the news this week as it attempts to find space on the cable box and redefine the term “network.” I remain convinced that the cable industry has transformed itself into an entirely new business led by technological innovation.

My best example of competition for the week goes to Aereo. I am fascinated with the many facets and nuances implied by this competitor of the broadcasters that could have substantial implications for the cable industry and the future of retransmission consent. Add into the mix that the FCC is encouraging broadcasters to give up spectrum, plus Chase Carey’s comments about scrapping the free-TV model. This could truly mark the end of an era that began more than 60 years ago when the broadcasters controlled the television market; and the cable industry in its infancy, formulated free market, disruptive technologies that eventually changed the telecommunications world.

At the show, I also informally asked people if we, as an industry, were still in the cable business. Many of our technologically-minded colleagues answered “no,” but they could not come up with a better descriptor. I have thought about this myself and proposed that we are now in the “integrated media, communications, and technology” business. I am still not convinced this is the right moniker, but it is probably more accurate than what I am hearing in academic circles - “new media.” One thing I do know…we are operating in a space that is dynamically active with new entrepreneurs, innovators, and competitors. I believe this is the sign of a very healthy industry with a wonderful future ahead – an industry that is moving forward at lightning speed.
 
(Larry Satkowiak is president and CEO of The Cable Center, the nonprofit educational arm of the cable industry. The Center preserves cable’s enduring contributions to society, strengthens relationships between cable and academia and unites the industry around the advancement of exceptional customer service. www.cablecenter.org)
 







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