SBJ/June 20-26, 2011/Media

Not much TV talk at cable show

Discussions focus on mobile devices, accompanying business model

There was so much talk about streaming video during the cable industry’s annual convention in Chicago last week that Comcast’s Brian Roberts felt compelled to remind cable executives why they were there in the first place.

“Let’s not forget about the television,” Roberts said during a panel session on the conference’s final day.

Comcast’s Brian Roberts demonstrated a faster Internet speed that will boost live video quality.
It was one of the few times the word “television” was uttered the entire week. In fact, earlier in the week, Roberts’ counterpart at Time Warner Cable, Glenn Britt, said, “There’s no such thing as a TV anymore.”

It was fitting that Roberts made his remarks after he demonstrated a new super-fast Internet speed that will make downloading and sharing video much easier.

The service would give live Internet video more of a broadcast quality and provide a big boost for sports to broadcast live via the Internet.

The new faster Internet, which Roberts said should be available by the end of the year, underscores the importance of a debate among programmers about the best business plan for broadband and mobile service.

The cable industry clearly is worried about free Internet video and, in a phrase that was repeated multiple times last week, is taking steps to avoid the same fate as the music industry. Cable executives believe the availability of free music on the Internet and file-sharing systems severely hurt the music industry.

As the highest-rated and most expensive content, sports programming was at the center of the debate.

It was clear that cable operators and programmers believe full cable channels will be simulcast live on tablet computers and other mobile devices at some point. The question programmers debated in Chicago last week dealt with what the business model will look like.

That tone was set early in the week’s first panel session, when Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes and News Corp.’s Chase Carey staked out different positions on how to stream channels to mobile and broadband applications.

Bewkes advocated making channels available on all Internet devices without charging consumers extra for it.

Carey, however, said that programmers would not give away content like that if consumers will pay for it. He complained that the pace to develop a business plan already was moving far too slowly.

“We’ve talked about authentication for two years, and we’re still talking,” he said.

Still, Fox is making a push into the streaming video world. Carey said the Big Ten Network would introduce a streaming service for tablets called BTN2Go. The service will be authenticated to BTN cable and satellite customers, making live games and other programming available on tablet computers. It will launch in August.

ESPN, meanwhile, was promoting its authenticated service throughout the convention. The ESPN booth was filled with iPads that demonstrated the WatchESPN app that streams ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN3 to Time Warner Cable, Bright House and Verizon subscribers.

ESPN’s Sean Bratches said his company is somewhere in the middle of the Bewkes-Carey debate. Distributors pay ESPN extra for the right to make the app available to their subscribers, but ESPN does not allow the distributors to charge consumers extra for it.
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