Powell Says He's Not Worried By Cord-Cutters

National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell says that he is more intrigued than worried by the prospect, which he emphasized was more prospect than reality.

That is according to an interview for C-SPAN's Communicators series, a copy of which was supplied to B&C/Multi.

He said he thought the market was "rightfully generating a set of complimentary opportunities" that he said also has risks. He pointed out that those options drive a lot of broadband consumption, a business cable is also in, big time. "These things aren't zero sum for our industry. Some of those same things accrue to us as a benefit."

But he was not conceding the point entirely. He pointed to studies he said had "poured cold water" on the "overly enthusiastic" cord-cutting theme. He said annually, it seems, the media have to grudgingly report that folks are still primarily watching the same "favorite shows" on the same "favorite platforms" and that cord-cutting is more an idea than a reality, "at least at scale."

Powell says that there would be nothing to watch on Netflix or Hulu if it were not first monetized on cable, and that over the top and over the cable content is much more interdependent than it gets credit for. He says folks would not get to binge-watch the $4 million Breaking Bad if that—or ESPN or Mad Men—cost had not been recovered on a cable platform—in this case AMC.

He said there is just more TV to watch in more ways.

Asked whether cable had matured in terms of growth and whether its future now lay in broadband, Powell conceded the cable side had matured, pointing out that its share, once 90% of the pay TV market, had been reduced to about 50% with the growth of satellite and telco competition. In fact, he pointed out, two of the top three MVPDs are satellite companies, and the fifth and sixth are the phone companies. But he said cable ops are attacking both sides of the equation for growth, which is to lower costs and find new areas of growth.

In terms of revenue, he said Comcast's investment in the X1 VOD platform and making it more attractive and easier to use was one way to find new ways to "delight and hold consumers." In essence, he said, innovate to keep what you have. On the new opportunities side, broadband was a "blessed source," he said, with a growing future and huge economics. He conceded that broadband was a big part of what cable had become.

New service opportunities on the broadband side include security and other "Internet of things" offerings from the home.

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.