The Cable Show 2012 [part 1]: Reports of Cable’s death are premature.

Pay TV, particularly Cable, is in decline. At least that’s the story from many industry journalists, analysts and influencers over the last couple of years. Cord-cutting – subscribers who cancel their contracts in favour of less expensive alternatives like OTT streaming services, FTA digital television and IPTV packages offered via their telecoms provider – is on the rise, and Cable Operators should be preparing for the end of their long-held monopolies.

I’ve always been skeptical of the threat posed by alternative television service providers – sure, they were attracting new subscribers and PayTV numbers were falling, but given cable’s ‘problem’ was near market saturation, whereas OTT and IPTV service providers were starting from scratch I never felt there was a real threat. Coupled with the fact that there can be little doubt that Cable has the best technological offering… it seemed that most of the stories were written to make a good story, rather than there being any real threat to PayTV’s dominance.

Then I attended The Cable Show in Chicago twelve months ago… my first for many years. The fear was palpable. The show floor was empty. The mood – except for a few people I spoke with – was downbeat. It seemed that many in the industry believed the threat was real… and, while there was some rabble-rousing by the NCTA, you could see the fear in the white’s of many people’s eyes. I wondered what this year’s Cable Show would be like.

The mood was certainly a lot more positive than it was in Chicago. While there’s a recognition that the industry needs to evolve, the fear – in the most part – has gone. While subscriber numbers have continued to fall over the last year average revenues per user have risen. There’s also a growing realization that Cable has the best technical solution for providing consumers with the connected, social, multiscreen, everywhere TV experience they want.

Now all they have to do is start delivering it.

Three things stood out from this years event:

  • Event TV is still king – whether it’s sport of talk shows, people love live broadcast. The lines to meet a host of celebrities signing pictures or giving keynotes demonstrated demonstrated that viewers also love their celebrities.
  • Subscribers want the same TV experience on every screen [they want it to feel like ‘telly’]
  • The industry is still very fragmented. Whether it’s vendors trying to sell a single component of a TV experience, or an operator looking to integrate OTT and On-demand services into their offering, the industry still isn’t collaborating enough.

While there’s still a way to go before Cable can claim to have neutralized the threat from OTT and IPTV providers and stemmed the cord-cutting phenomenon, it is getting there. Reports of the death or Cable TV are, I’m pleased to report, somewhat premature!

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