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From the Cable Show: "Disruptors" not so disruptive

Mon, 06/10/2013 - 6:25pm
Brian Santo

What message is one supposed to derive from a once-stodgy industry, celebrating its real successes in keeping current, opening its big annual show with a rapper who last saw the pop charts 22 years ago?

Then again, maybe you can just take Hammer performing “2 Legit 2 Quit” at face value…

Shortly after Hammer quit, NCTA president Michael Powell took the stage to extol the virtues of cable, backed by video sequences – nicely synchronized with points in his speech – that included a cavalry charge, beaming children, and Ol’ Glory waving in the breeze. If there was a slice of apple pie, we missed it. On the other hand, one of those women in one of those images was certainly somebody’s mom.

We’re in Washington, D.C., and the point was to remind political critters in the audience that cable has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in the past two decades, blazed the path for broadband – the platform for so much business innovation and consumer opportunity, and regulators ought to keep a light touch.

Next up was a panel that included CNN anchor and session moderator Jake Tapper, Charter Communications CEO Tom Rutledge, and a clutch of top executives from agile new companies that are perceived as disrupting communications and entertainment industry models in one way or or another.

Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff, Jawbone CEO Hosain Rahman, Twitter COO Ali Rowghani, and Roku GM of content and Services Steve Shannon, were all quite enthusiastic about being complements to the cable industry, With Rowghani talking about projects to integrate Twitter with TV, Shannon noting that 70 percent of Roku users kept a cable connection, and Rahman referring to collaborations with Comcast. Bankoff looked a bit uncomfortable saying so, but he said that Vox Media could be a complement to cable.

With Tapper playing provocateur, all allowed that they’d prefer it if the cable industry could move faster.

Bankoff took the opportunity to provide a little mini-lecture on how cable could learn from Silicon Valley’s approach of agile manufacturing: try things out, and if you make a mistake, fix it. Rahman piled on: if things fail, let them fail quickly, move on quickly, see what sticks, then figure out how to monetize it.

“Have a willingness to fail,” Blankoff responded.

Rutledge reminded that cable is spending billions of dollars a year on technology, and though he allowed he’d like to move faster, he noted – in what might have been a not-so-subtle dig back at the other panelists, “it’s amazing how quickly new capacity gets filled with applications.”

Rutledge then turned it around, cautioning programmers “anything that you put anywhere is going to end up on any screen, and you can’t control it. There’s no way to control where you content goes ultimately, and if you think you can segregate where it goes by calling this the Internet and this the TV, somebody will build a box that will disabuse you of that notion.”

NCTA President Michael Powell at the Cable Show's General Session on Monday

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