INTX: What’s Next for Comcast, TWC, et al?

By Paul Maxwell Report Archives
Cover image for  article: INTX: What’s Next for Comcast, TWC, et al?

Comment: What do you get when you cross the Internet with the old cable biz? For the folks at the NCTA it’s -- drum roll here ­– INTX! Cute. Cable teams up with the Internet (in the form of Re/Code) and NCTA’s Michael Powell, who doesn’t like the brand “cable,” shows up without a tie to show how cool NCTA can be. Last time I saw that sartorial switch happen was when Jerry Levin took off his tie and Steve Case was wearing one. That didn’t work out so good.

Speaking of INTX as a brand, I’d suggest working with the folks at CTAM (and maybe calling Char Beales in for advice) to find a better moniker for what the industry has become.  Maybe next time brand the industry as something other than a technical word … or even one without an “X” in it. Cable is named after the cable. Television is named after the TV set.  Broadcasting is named after the generic idea of sending to a mass audience. Broadband doesn’t really mean anything unless the FCC defines it.  Maybe we could transcend all of that and go back to the idea of Media 3.0 until we can really think of the right kind of branding … you know, not a label but something to reach for!

As a show, it wasn’t bad; and Chicago is a good location (except there ought to be some way to time travel from McCormick Center to the good restaurants and hotels).  The floor was sometimes busy (someone gave away an Apple watch), folks pontificated at Imagine Park (some interestingly) and the first things you saw on the way onto the floor from sessions were Comcast’s mega-booths for everything from voice remotes (that work pretty well!) to any NBCU network.  Kind of nice to see they paid for so much space after the session’s opening commercial from Brian Roberts.

Walking around on the floor I got to thinking about ESPN’s suit against Verizon about packaging programming into different bundles.  Knowing a little about affiliate contracts, I’m sure ESPN is in the right, contractually speaking.  But wondering about it, I tried to imagine what might have been different if the NCTA had, when it might have mattered, welcomed other MVPDs into the association.   Imagine if Verizon, in the form of FiOS, AT&T in the form of U-Verse, DirecTV and DISH had been welcomed into the fold.  (Well, maybe not DISH, it has its own show after all and Charlie doesn’t necessarily play nice with others.) Programmers would have likely formed or joined another group with like interests. Additionally, the arguments about size in the aborted Comcast/TWC transaction might have had differing metrics.  Just wondering.

NetNeut took the focus as Tom Wheeler opened Tuesday’s general session by singing and dancing his way across the stage with insincere praise followed by we’re-doing-this-to-you-because-we-don’t-trust-anybody and ending with don’t-look-up-or-you’ll-see-that-draconian-sword-we’re-now-dangling-over-your heads-and-once-it-starts-the-government-will-not-turn-back!  So he wants cable to trust him?  Hah!

About consolidation.  Gotta love J. D. & the Straightshot’s suggestion that consolidation -- of companies or businesses or services -- in the New York/New Jersey contiguous markets makes great sense.  It was fun to see Jim Dolan put everyone on stage with him in a tizzy. (A date or marriage proposal?  Off-the-mark follow-up questions!) At least no one talked about the Knicks.

And mega-kudos to Liberty Global’s Mike Friess for saying what his co-panelists were thinking: The Federal Confusion Commission got it wrong on NetNeut.

Now let’s get to the nitty gritty (AKA, here’s what’s going to happen in the next round of cable consolidation):  Bright House will get a better deal as soon as Time Warner Cable decides whether it is better to acquire it before or after cutting a deal with Charter and after some white board exercises in just who winds up with which markets to dominate and how big of a booby prize Comcast will get.  3D Chess has nothing on this process.  You can get an idea of how something like this will happen if you think back to how the industry carved up Adelphia. So, never ignore history.  It often foretells the future (think Toynbee).

In Other Items of Interest:

OK, no one in cable likes what the Federal Confusion Commission did with “NetNeut” … so here’s an idea of how to handle that: Like a bad movie script, have FCC Chair Tom Wheeler switch places with NCTA chief Michael Powell.  Then, Michael could craft a “lighter touch” NetNeut version and the NCTA board could fire Tom.

Old friend Dave Clark had an interesting thought: local origination (LO) was an early part of larger cable systems and then died.  And came back to life on YouTube!

Look for another chapter of my new book “The Revolutionary Evolution of the Media” next week … and, in the meantime, catch up with the previous chapters here.

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