Powell: ‘Cable’ Doesn’t Quite Cut It

WASHINGTON — National Cable & Telecommunications Association president and CEO Michael Powell has said that the phrase “cable” in NCTA does not convey the “breadth of who we are and what we do.”

But Powell, a self-described “geek” and frustrated artist, recently told Multichannel News Washington bureau chief John Eggerton the story of how lawyers for the industry’s main trade association came to seek Patent and Trademark Office protection of a potential new moniker. Here’s a clue: He was clueless.

An edited transcript of their conversation follows.

MCN: In 2000, the NCTA changed its name to remove “television.” In the past couple of years, you have been exploring taking “cable” out as well, but adding “Internet” and putting TV back in.

Michael Powell: We haven’t done anything, and let’s be clear there is no active committee or activity going on about our name.

But, one, I am a geek who loves brands and loves understanding what your identity is. There is an element of the cable brand I am troubled by.

MCN: What is that?

MP: I think it is incomplete. I think it has a certain meaning in the minds of consumers and a certain meaning in the minds of policymakers. And I think it underrepresents the breadth of what we are and what we do. We are not some old-fashioned cable industry. We are probably, now, the country’s most sophisticated full-service communications provider.

What do you call an industry that is the biggest WiFi provider in the country? What do you call an industry that is the leading broadband distributor in the country? What do you call an industry that also distributes the highest quality video that you can consume?

MCN: What do you call it?

MP: I don’t know, but I think I am always scratching on paper, like, “What would you call that thing that would more fairly represent the full breadth and beauty of what we have going on here?” If I had found it, we would have changed it already.

But when you pick up on this, you are picking up on Mike Powell, the frustrated artist trying to find the thing that I think gives fuller meaning to who we are.

I think the reason you saw Verizon find FiOS and Comcast find Xfinity more recently, and you see Cox and Contour, is that people know that there is a challenge. How do you evolve in understanding who you are, and brand that? 

We have a very storied history in cable and we should hold on to it because your history is important, but our struggle is to be perceived as a forward looking, future-looking brand and I would love to find fresher colors and fresher words and fresher symbols of that. And I will probably spend the next few years futzing around trying to find it.

MCN: But you did apply to the Patent and Trademark office to protect “NCTA The Internet & Television Association.”

MP: I will tell you a funny story. My staff will tell you I don’t have any trouble drawing up what I like.  I started using a terminology and logo in my slides and in my email, I invented my own signature block that was different from the standard one, and my staff got all nervous because they were like: “You’re running around and using a brand that doesn’t exist; we could be infringing somebody’s copyright.” And unbeknownst to me — nobody had told me, but the lawyers quietly went away and said: “Our crazy boss might show up one day and say this is our new brand. We’d better go copyright and trademark this.” And so they did.

I think the first time I heard it was trademarked was when you wrote about it. [Multichannel News did indeed track the filing, but we believe Steve Donohue of FierceCable was the first to report about it.]

I went downstairs and said, “You trademarked that?” And they said: “Yeah, we decided we’d better take control of it.”

Thanks for monitoring it. And when you have a trademark, you have a duty to exercise a trademark (see box), so on my desk are markups of some my new stationery that has it on it and, I don’t know, I like it.

Another thing. There is this cool little monicker, cable, but it doesn’t always distinguish between the industry and the association, so sometimes I find it a troubling brand because sometimes we want to say, “this is NCTA talking, this is the association’s brand.”

But when you say cable, it is murky. It is a brand that goes over the whole industry.  And I’m not the president of “cable” or the COO of the whole stinkin’ industry.