Recession, competition and disintermediation are all worrying cable operators, but, as Comcast CEO Brian Roberts asked, if you had a choice between cable, automotive or banking, where would you choose to work?
Despite what most people consider to be the worst recession anyone under retirement age can remember, cable operators are actually growing parts of their businesses and gaining market share, testified several top executives at The Cable Show’s opening General Session.
Suddenlink CEO Jerry Kent said his company just added a record number of RGUs in the first quarter; Cox president Pat Esser noted that business services was experiencing double-digit growth rates; and Roberts said 60 percent of his company’s broadband adds were refugees from DSL. The recession is taking its toll, to be sure, but cable’s a pretty good business to be in right now.
Esser reminded the show crowd that providing value, providing the best possible customer experience, and helping customers to understand the value of cable are absolutely essential to success.
“We need to be the most trusted provider in the markets we serve,” Esser said. “Even before you get to products.”
Roberts, meanwhile, insisted that despite the economy, this is a good time to reinvest in infrastructure, to “widen the moat.” Examples he gave were going all digital and installing DOCSIS 3.0.
Moderator William Kennard, with the Carlyle Group, asked about the different approaches to wireless represented on the panel.
Esser prefaced his comments by saying he wanted to dispel a myth about wireless. “The most valuable asset I own is last mile,” he said. “Wireless just lets me put a wireless mesh on top of that.”
Cox simply can’t afford to innovate in every area, and that’s why it has elected to buy spectrum and use existing technology to roll out standard 3G technology in its markets, while partnering with Sprint for national reach. Cox may end up providing the same thing as Verizon or AT&T, but the company will remain relevant.
Craig McCaw, chairman of Clearwire, showed no sign of distress when Roberts clearly hedged his bets on wireless, even though Comcast is heavily invested in Clearwire.
Roberts called the deployment of wireless a conundrum for cable. He said Comcast is dedicated to having Clearwire succeed, but he made it a point to note that Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House all also own AWS/700 MHz spectrum.