NCTA Co-Chairs: Cable MustKeep Innovating, Differentiating

As they prepared to tag-team the opening session at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association convention May 21-23 in Boston, co-chairs Neil Smit, president/COO of Comcast Cable, and Phil Kent, chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting, teamed up for an interview with B&C/Multichannel News about stemming video subscriber declines, differentiating service, keeping up with a mobile world and delivering on diversity. An edited transcript follows.

Cable operators seem to be stemming video subscriber declines, but how do you get back to positive territory?

Neil Smit:
We need to compete better with improved products, and that’s what we are focused on. Now that our major platform investments are complete, we are able to innovate at a faster rate and offer more content, on more platforms, and more devices. We need to continue to focus on major new product innovations coupled with better customer service, and focused marketing and retention efforts across the board.

How concerned are you about cord-cutting?

Phil Kent:
I pay close attention to all aspects of consumer behavior, but I try to maintain perspective. There are a lot of good reasons for changing patterns in usage. But with television still commanding 98% of the viewing and technology offering more ways and places to watch, our focus is on offering products and platforms that make it an even more attractive and valuable proposition than it already is.

What technology should the cable industry be most excited about, and why?

We are excited about the opportunities that the cloud opens up for faster development and new products across our platforms.

We’re using the cloud-based delivery in our new X1 platform to give us flexibility to bring new features to the guide and new apps to consumers faster. We can update our new X1 guide in days, which previously would have taken weeks or months in the traditional delivery. This technology enables us to fundamentally change the user experience and enable better search and discovery, social networking, recommendations and new cross-platform features across multiple screens, at home and on the go.

How important is mobility for cable, and is Wi-Fi the answer?

We live in a world that is more connected and mobile every day, so mobility is clearly important to us.

Wi-Fi is a great value-add for consumers and will play an increasingly important role in cable’s broadband offering. It provides consumers more convenience with their devices and more freedom with the content we offer. For us, our Verizon Wireless joint venture is a key part of our strategy, as well as developing wireless apps that allow our customers to access cross-platform features. We are definitely looking to expand WiFi offerings into the future.

What does the cable industry need to do to boost adoption of TV Everywhere? And speaking of which, why is Hulu moving to an authentication model?

TV Everywhere is the fastest-moving initiative in a generation in terms of concept to availability.

I’m very pleased with how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time. Consumers and the marketplace recognize that TV Everywhere is a path to the future. To get there quickly, we need simple authentication processes, more content and committed partners.

We have momentum and early success; our priority now should be socializing TV Everywhere more aggressively via smart, consumerfocused marketing.

As for Hulu, we are not an owner so I’m not privy to the internal thinking about their business model. But our perspective is that authentication makes business sense and is good for consumers.

Are cable operators video distributors in the ISP business, or are ISPs getting out of the traditional video market?

Smit: I’m not sure there needs to be a specific label. We aggregate and curate content and bring it to our customers across multiple platforms, and we’ll continue to add more content and more platforms all the time. More than 85% of Americans subscribe to a multichannel video provider. We also offer some of the fastest Internet speeds in the country. So I like our position, no matter what the label.

Can you give us a preview of the key industry opportunities and objectives that you will be emphasizing at the NCTA show?

Kent: I think it’s important to talk about the quality and range of cable content as the foundation of our industry’s continuing success. Regardless of the platform they choose, people are passionate about content they love. I’m interested in a discussion about how we distinguish and differentiate ourselves through our programming, and how our choices are evolving and shaping the consumer experience.

What is the state of diversity in the cable industry and how can it be improved?

Kent: The programming our industry creates and presents is more diverse, and is more interesting and meaningful to diverse audiences all the time. But our ranks do not reflect the diversity of the consumers we serve. There are any number of factors we can point to to explain why cable television is not more inclusive in front of and behind the camera and around the conference table, but the bottom line is that we can do better. Consumers expect it, our employees want it and our business depends on it.

What does "innovation" mean for cable beyond the buzzword?

Kent: The same as it always has: thinking and being ahead; taking the risks necessary in order to lead; putting the priorities and mindset of consumers first; and creating products you can be proud of.

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John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.