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NCTA : Big Cable Players: Amid Competition, Size Make Us Stronger

The biggest players in the cable TV industry say they have a distinct advantage over new competitors - size.

As a host of competitors - old and new - threaten to steal away profits from both cable operators and content providers, the big players say they are crafting their own ways to exploit new media so they maintain their dominance.

The leaders of Comcast, Time Warner, Viacom and News Corp. talked up their scale as the defining attribute that would let them crush their rivals on an NCTA panel enthusiastically titled "State of the Industry: Competition Works, Consumers Win!" Those rivals include current competitors satellite and phone companies as well as new digital upstarts.

"Cable will continue to set the high watermark for quality and value in the entertainment and information age," said Comcast Corp. Chairman/CEO Brian Roberts.

Roberts kicked off the panel with a video of himself at the 1996 NCTA show where he touted the speed of then new cable modem technology against slower dial-up Internet connectivity. This year, it was cable's super-fast "wideband" connection he showcased, downloading in under four minutes a video clip that he said would have taken more than three hours on a standard connection.

The panelists agreed that ten years into the future, they as big companies would still be around as the leading media providers.

"This is a world in which the big get bigger," said News Corp. President/COO Peter Chernin.

They each described new projects their respective companies had launched to capitalize on new technology.

Chernin cited the video player his company is developing with NBC Universal and distributing through online outlets; Viacom President/CEO Philippe Dauman praised online extensions MTV and other Viacom-owned cable channels have launched to complement their TV shows.

Roberts and Time Warner Chairman/CEO Dick Parsons were bullish on how broadband is enhancing operators' business. While TV viewing is actually going up, they said, operators are poised to grow in other ways by launching new broadband-enabled products.

The panelists also agreed that their companies would see increasing consolidation, as established major media companies continue to look to acquire competitive upstarts, as News Corp. did with MySpace.

"The notion that somehow the new kids on the block are taking over is a false notion," Parsons said.

Parsons summed up the panel's theme in a childhood story he shared with the audience.

The strapping CEO recalled how as a boy, his mother told him that the little guys were the best athletes because they had the most control over their bodies. But once the big guys learned how to control their bodies, the little guys didn't stand a chance.

Likening those little guys to cable's scrappy upstart competitors, he said big media companies are quickly learning how to "grow into new technology" and become more coordinated in using it to their advantage.

"We're getting control of our bodies," he said. "And wen we do, we're going to run the little guys down."