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WiMax, Tru2Way Will Open Avenues: Panel

New developments in technology and the challenges and opportunities they provide were at the forefront of a panel discussion with top industry executives at the Cable Show’s opening general session on Sunday.

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, News Corp. chief operating officer Peter Chernin, Intel CEO Paul Otellini and Panasonic chairman and CEO Yoshi Yamada all touted the partnerships and initiatives in which their respective companies were involved. But each executive managed to push a common theme: Changing technology presents both an opportunity and a challenge for cable operators and programmers.

Roberts said that the company’s participation in a new WiMax wireless consortium with Sprint, Clearwire, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, Google and Intel will open up a host of applications and new devices for the cable giant. And he added that although Comcast has made a foray into wireless before (and failed, most recently with the Pivot joint venture), this time it’s for real.

“This is definitely our preferred course,” Roberts said of the WiMax venture. He added that one of the problems with the Pivot venture was that the partners were not allowed to brand or roll out the product on their own. The WiMax venture will also be a national service from its first day of deployment, he noted.

“The big problem with starting from scratch, it’s not national from day one,” Roberts said, adding that Sprint has agreed in this venture to provide access to its second- and third-generation wireless networks to all participants.

“This is national on day one with no holes in the coverage area,” Roberts said. “It’s a great way to get to market quickly.”

Roberts also touted the cable industry’s interactive advertising initiative — Project Canoe — adding that a CEO for the venture should be named soon. He said the ability to provide interactive advertising — made possible by open networks — is the next big thing for the cable industry. (See Monitor, page 16.)

Open networks was another topic of discussion, primarily cable’s Tru2way initiative. While cable has been trying to establish standards for two-way communications on its network for more than 10 years, Yamada said that this time, the consumer-electronics industry is strongly behind their efforts.

And that is because consumers are beginning to demand applications and products that only two-way networks can bring.

“Most importantly, the open architecture means that a lot of new creative applications are going to be developed,” Yamada said.

While the push toward higher-speed Internet access and increased mobility poses problems for content providers, both Chernin and Dauman said the programmers are up to the task.

Chernin said that despite the concerns that arise with new developments in technology — piracy, copyright concerns and the like — ignoring those developments to shield existing businesses is a big mistake.

“The simple mantra I try to say is to the degree we’re trying to protect our existing business, we’re toast,” Chernin said. “We’re only staving off the inevitable, and an example of that is the music industry. We had better build new businesses and new business models faster than the old ones may erode.”