Now showing: The cable show

March 31, 2009

The big story in the media for the rest of the week is the annual National Cable Telecommunications Association Show, or “the cable show,” as its commonly called.

This year’s primary topic looks like it will be how the big, traditional operators in the business will adapt to an age when the Internet is giving people more options to watch shows, and not always in a way that feeds the bank.

Here is our own take on the show from the Reuters wire:

Both sets of companies will be brainstorming on how to cope with or benefit from disintermediation: consumers can now watch decent-quality video online whenever they want, and often for free.

“Last year, cable companies were in a more probelgradetectionist mode but now they’re facing up to the inevitable trend, because online video is really here to stay,” said Tuna Amobi, equity analyst at Standard & Poor’s.

Executives will also have the economy on their minds.

“The current recession has cut into consumer spending for household TV and telecommunications, while also causing most marketers to reduce their advertising budgets,” said Collins Stewart analyst Thomas Eagan.

Longer term, the industry hopes to forge new tie-ups to capitalize on the online trend.

Broadcasting & Cable approaches the same topic, but with the requisite “it’s still early days” comment:

But with online viewing still amounting to a tiny fraction of actual viewing (not to mention revenue), the debate over a viable business model may be a lot louder than it needs to be. Cable networks, however, have to work with their pipelines to protect everyone’s interests.

“We’re constantly looking at evolving our economic models on our shows to ensure that we’re protected well into the future,” says Andrea Wong, president and CEO of Lifetime Networks. “I don’t think anyone has the magic answer yet. I think that we’re all trying to experiment and find new ways to do business together. I think we have to.”

Those last two sentences could have been taken from a newspaper executive.

MarketWatch reports on operators freaked out about the economic recession causing people to simply give up cable and do something else with their time.

Since last May’s Cable Show in New Orleans, the price of cable stocks have dropped by an average of 31%, with most of the declines coming after the September collapse of Lehman Brothers that triggered a worldwide financial meltdown.

The phenomenon of “cord-cutting” has been a concern of some cable executives, most notably Time Warner Cable (TWC) Chairman Glenn Britt, who has voiced his belief that the wide availability of free, ad-supported television shows online through sites like Hulu, Veoh and others has made it feasible to stop paying for cable or satellite service.

Keep an eye on:

  • Speaking of cable and the Internet, Google’s YouTube signed a deal with Disney to offer ABC and ESPN clips on its Web video service. Disney might also put full-length shows on the Hulu joint venture betwen News Corp and NBC Universal. This is something that the cable guys mentioned above are watching with some alarm because, as we noted above, this stuff would be free, and no one wants to wind up like newspapers who gave away the store online for the past decade. (PaidContent and The Wall Street Journal)
  • Speaking of newspapers, the Journal and The New York Times had the same bright idea: Profiles of the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News on their first day of delivering the news without a print newspaper. It was either genius, dumb luck or just plain dumb, depending on how you lookat it; big events in the collapsing auto industry, not to mention some other noteworthy stuff, made for a huge news day. That either spurred online interest or made readers scream because they had no paper to read about it. (The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times)
  • More from newspaper land: The New York Times cut its staff and sought pay concessions on Thursday. Now the axe is swinging at the Times-owned Boston Globe. Thirty buyouts, 20 layoffs. (Boston Business Journal)
    Also, online ad growth “screeches to a halt.” Sigh. (Silicon Alley Insider)
  • Google commits $100 million to its venture capital fund, according to unnamed sources, like it’s some kind of scandal. Google also names folks who will run it, fortunately showing its confidence in them by saying so on the record. (The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times)
  • Google Maps is good at catching cheating husbands for free, if you can believe this report. (The Sun)

(Photo: Reuters)

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