With Speed Battle Won, Cable Ops Focus on Reliability

ATLANTA — Having won the speed wars, cable operators should now set their sights on providing reliable and relatable broadband services, a panel of small cable operator executives said at the NCTC Winter Education Conference here Monday.

Cable operators, especially smaller companies, have increasingly de-emphasized video service, with Cable One being one of the more aggressive operators on that front. At the conference’s "General Session: First-String Leaders" panel, Cable One senior VP of technology services Ken Johnson said cable companies should embrace the shift away from video.

l to r: NCTC board chairman and GCI VP of Content Bob Ormberg, Cable One SVP Technology Services Ken Johnson, North State Communications EVP and Chief Marketing Officer Scott Watts 

l to r: NCTC board chairman and GCI VP of Content Bob Ormberg, Cable One SVP Technology Services Ken Johnson, North State Communications EVP and Chief Marketing Officer Scott Watts 

Operators who have spent the past few years focusing on increasing broadband speeds should now concentrate on something different, Johnson added.

“The race for speed is over,” Johnson said, noting that 97% of cable homes offer 1-Gigabit service today. “What they [customers] are looking for today is reliability, available 100% of the time. Embrace the video trend, recognize that we’re delivering. We’ve won the speed battle. Now it’s about reliability.”

North State Communications executive VP and chief marketing officer Scott Watts said although his company launched video about a decade ago, it has become primarily a retention tool for broadband services.

“We’re at a place where consumer behaviors are changing,” Watts said. “They’re consuming content from multiple sources, they want to do it on their own terms. We’re looking at alternative options, things like app-based services that don’t require a set-top box.”

Johnson added that only about 15% of Cable One’s homes passed take video and the operator is looking at providing links to other video services like Sling TV and Mobi TV and an even an in-house IP video solution.

“Consumers have decided how they want to get video,” Johnson said. “We just happen to be further along in that continuum than most people. It’s moving towards an app-based world, it’s moving toward an over-the-top streaming solution. We’re trying to figure out what’s our migration path. We’re actually embracing it.”

Johnson added that Cable One still has video customers and is still supporting them, it’s just spending more time and energy on other platforms for customers to access content.

“We are trialing things like Sling TV and Mobi TV, we’re looking at all the OTT partners and seeing what makes sense to bring in and comparing that to an in-house solution. Ultimately that is an ROI [Return on Investment] decision that will drive us one way or the other,” Johnson said. "Other than a hosted TV Everywhere product that we offer today, we are not actively providing OTT content.”

He added that whatever Cable One decides, it will not include providing billing services for third party OTT providers.

“We’re not looking to be in the middle of that,” Johnson said. “We look at cable as something we’re moving away from, not towards. We don’t want to have the burden of billing for that.”

Watts agreed, adding that North State is evaluating an app-based solution and has offered streaming service HBO Now in the past. But he added that the rising number of OTT providers makes being an aggregator difficult.

“There’s just so many different offerings, it’s tough to get in the middle of that,” Watts said. “It’s so complex, the different offerings, the different levels of service, trying to bill for a lot of different partners and be that aggregator, I don’t know the value we could bring to that.”