Two Chairs: No Waiting5/21/2012 12:01 AM Eastern
As they prepared to tag team the opening session at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s
upcoming Cable Show in Boston this week, convention co-chairs Neil Smit, president and chief operating officer
of Comcast Cable, and Phil Kent, chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting Sytem, sat down with Multichannel
News Washington bureau chief John Eggerton to talk about stemming video-subscriber declines, differentiating
service, keeping up with a mobile world and delivering on diversity.
MCN: Cable operators seem to be stemming video-subscriber
declines, but how do you get back into positive territory?
Neil Smit: We need to compete better with improved products,
and that’s what we are focused on.
Now that our major platform investments are complete, we
are able to innovate at a faster rate and offer more content on
more platforms and [through] more devices. We need to continue
to focus on major new product innovations, coupled with
better customer service and focused marketing and retention
efforts across the board.
MCN: How concerned are you about cord-cutting?
Phil Kent: I pay close attention to all aspects of consumer
behavior, but I try to maintain perspective. There are a lot of
good reasons for changing patterns in usage. But with television
still commanding 98% of the viewing, and technology
offering more ways and places to watch, our focus is on offering
products and platforms that make it an even more attractive
and valuable proposition than it already is.
MCN: What technology should the cable industry be most
excited about and why?
Smit: We are excited about the opportunities that the cloud
opens up for faster development and new products across
We’re using the cloud-based delivery in our new X1 platform
to give us flexibility to bring new features to the guide and new
apps to consumers faster. We can update our new X1 guide in
days, which previously would have taken weeks or months in
the traditional delivery. This technology enables us to fundamentally
change the user experience and enable better search
and discovery, social networking, recommendations and new
cross-platform features across multiple screens, at home and
on the go.
MCN: How important is mobility for cable, and is Wi-Fi the
Smit: We live in a world that is more connected and mobile
every day, so mobility is clearly important to us.
Wi-Fi is a great value-add for consumers and will play an
increasingly important role in cable’s broadband offering. It
provides consumers more convenience with their devices
and more freedom with the content we offer. For us, our Verizon
Wireless joint venture is a key part of our strategy, as [is]
developing wireless apps that allow our customers to access
cross-platform features. We are definitely looking to expand
Wi-Fi offerings into the
MCN: What does the
cable industry need to
do to boost adoption
of TV Everywhere?
Speaking of which,
why is Hulu moving
to an authentication
Kent: TV Everywhere
is the fastestmoving
a generation in terms
of concept to availability.
I’m very pleased
with how far we’ve
come in such a short
amount of time. Consumers
and the marketplace
that TV Everywhere
is a path to the future.
To get there quickly, we need simple authentication processes,
more content and committed partners.
We have momentum and early success; our priority now
should be socializing TV Everywhere more aggressively via
smart, consumer-focused marketing.
As for Hulu, we are not an owner so I’m not privy to the
internal thinking about their business model, but our
perspective is that authentication makes business sense
and is good for consumers.
MCN: Are cable operators video distributors in the
Internet-service provider business, or are ISPs getting out
of the traditional video market?
Smit: I’m not sure there needs to be a specific label. We aggregate
and curate content and bring it to our customers
across multiple platforms, and we’ll continue to add more
content and more platforms all of the time.
More than 85% of Americans subscribe to a multichannel
video provider. We also offer some of the fastest Internet
speeds in the country. So I like our position no matter
what the label.
MCN: Can you give us a preview of the key opportunities
and objectives for the industry that you will be emphasizing
at the show?
Kent: I think it’s important to talk about the quality and
range of cable content as the foundation of our industry’s
continuing success. Regardless of the platform they choose,
people are passionate about content they love. I’m interested
in discussion about how we distinguish and diff erentiate
ourselves through our programming, and how our choices
are evolving and shaping the consumer experience.
MCN: What is the state of diversity in the cable industry and
how can it be improved?
Kent: The programming
creates and presents
is more diverse, and
more interesting and
meaningful to diverse
audiences, all the time.
But our ranks do not reflect the diversity of the
consumers we serve.
There are any number
of factors we can
point to to explain why
cable television is not
more inclusive in front
and behind the camera
and around the conference
table, but the bottom
line is that we can
do better. Consumers
expect it, our employees
want it and our
business depends on it.
MCN: What does
“innovation” mean for
cable beyond the buzzword?
Kent: The same as it always has: thinking and being ahead;
taking the risks necessary in order to lead; putting the priorities
and mindset of consumers first; and creating products
you can be proud of.