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CEOs: Make room for more HD

Thu, 06/21/2007 - 9:10am
CED staff

How much more? Fifty HD channels by year-end.

As more programmers make more content available in high definition, MSOs are revising their bandwidth budgets to make more shelf space – to the tune of 100 channels by 2009-2010, in some cases. Pat Esser, CEO of Cox, said during the morning session yesterday that he's already asked his engineers to ready their networks for 50 HD channels by year-end, and 100 the year after that.

"I've asked Chris (Bowick, Cox's CTO) to get our networks ready for that," Esser said.

"His guys are probably back in their rooms right now, figuring out how to get there. Or they're in the bathroom, getting sick."

Reference points: In 2003, about nine channels of HD programming were available.

Today, about 30, said NCTA president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow. "Cable offers HD services to 100 million American households, and carries signals in 206 of the 210 U.S. TV markets,"

McSlarrow said. By comparison, he said, DirecTV offers local HD in only 60 markets, and EchoStar's Dish in just 30.

On the (much) smaller screen, cable's CEOs said they're approaching mobile video as additive to existing, cable delivered services – and not a replacement.

"I don't think taking video with you on the phone is any competition to what we do," said Bob Miron, chairman and CEO of Advance/Newhouse Communications. "Mobility is a great extra, but it's not competition to the base piece."

On the competitive front, Esser said Cox faces AT& T's U-verse and Verizon's FiOS in some markets, and is taking the approach that both companies will eventually resolve any issues they face as they scale up to millions of customers. "A healthier view is to believe that they'll work it out. I'll enjoy it while they struggle, but they'll work it out."

Miron said most MSOs expected AT& T's move to offer DSL at $10/month, because it was promised as part of their merger negotiations with BellSouth. As to whether a pricing death match looms, Miron noted that "customers aren't anxious to leave when they're happy. It's when they're not happy that they start to wonder."

About that February, 2009 analog cutoff date: Watch for increasing consumer confusion about broadcasters going digital, Cox's Esser said. "By 2009, we'll have a new president, but we'll probably have the same broadcasters," he quipped.

Because of that, the onus is on the industry to be the good guy, Esser said.

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