Roberts: Keep On Innovating

San Francisco— Despite telephone companies’ threats to the video and data business, Comcast Corp. chairman and CEO Brian Roberts told a packed National Show general-session audience here last Monday that continued innovation from cable operators will win the day.

“Fiber-optics is not going to win — it’s what you do with it,” Roberts told the audience. “One of the things that is great about the cable industry is that we have never lost our strategic go-for-it mentality. We just completed a $90 billion rewiring of America with fiber optics.

“If there is one thing you should take from that experience is we should not lose our aggressiveness on innovating. This industry is continually adjusting, despite the pressures we sometimes get from the investment community to slow down. If we innovate, I think it’s ours to win.”

Innovation was the hot topic at the session, which also included Cisco Systems Corp. president and CEO John Chambers; Google Inc. co-founder and president, products Larry Page; America Online Inc. chairman and CEO Jon Miller; and DreamWorks SKG co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg.

With products like VOD, high-speed data and digital video recorders already established — and cable telephony on the verge of a nationwide rollout — operators should continue to look for products that address customer needs and wants, the panel said.

“It’s not what they [customers] are buying today, it’s what will they buy five years from now?” Chambers said. “The key is, will it be residential on a device or residential on the network? We have a bias toward the network, but we listen to what our customers are saying.”

Page talked about the growth of download speeds, adding that with added bandwidth, Internet users will be able to access video via the Google search engine. A new service, which should be launched in a few days, will allow Google users to submit their own video clips.

Speeds will only get higher, Roberts noted. Cable operators currently deliver speeds of 4 Mbps using only one 6-MHz channel out of an average capacity of 750 MHz for the typical upgraded cable system.

“We haven’t even started to scratch the surface, without having to rebuild,” Roberts said.

Comcast also is focusing on technology that will enhance the customer experience for existing products, Roberts added, pointing to his company’s deals with Motorola Inc. to develop a next-generation conditional access system and Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. to develop interactive program guides.