I was sitting with a Suddenlink executive in the press room at INTX in Chicago two weeks back. I had just covered the "Captains o' Cable Industry" keynote, during which Cablevision's James Dolan notoriously proposed corporate marriage to Time Warner Cable's Rob Marcus right on stage as Charter's Tom Rutledge and several other CEOs looked on in horror.
Last week, platforms like mine breathlessly reported that Charter's Tom Rutledge and Time Warner Cable's Rob Marcus were going to get together this week to talk merger. As they sat right next to each other on an INTX general session panel here Wednesday morning, it became quite clear that cable's still-pending wave of consolidation is more complicated than when Charter buys TWC and how much it pays for it.
Here at the INTX trade show, there is a lot of noise about the "user experience." Cable operators, technology vendors and others are desperate to make it easier for users to find and watch content. But the continued push for a better, faster UI seems misplaced at a time when YouTube is now the most watched television "channel" among 15- to 24-year-olds in Sweden and Netflix is streaming the best superhero TV show I've ever seen (Daredevil).
Back at the height of the cable boom in the 1980s, the NCTA's Barbara York tells me, the erstwhile Cable Show would draw 30,000 attendees. Next week, as the organization convenes its signature trade show in Chicago under a new name, INTX, and a broadened agenda, producers are expecting a third of that attendance level. But 10,000 still isn't bad.
The merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable was going to set off a chain reaction of consolidation, when it finally got approved. Now, with the federal government's rejection of the deal, a whole new kind of reaction has been set off.
I put my conspiracy theory guy pants on this morning as I emailed a couple of media analysts with a half-baked theory whose time has come: In hoisting a controversial new bundling strategy that has irked its programming partners, Verizon is really working to build leverage to negotiate content rights for its upcoming wireless OTT service.
Cisco's Conrad Clemson says he gets a familiar reaction from his cable-industry clients when he tells them he's about to execute one of his favorite technological principles, "destructive testing." "They always go, 'Why would you do that?'" The answer: You can't fix things until you know how they break.
In the area of over-the-top distribution, there are plenty of known unknowns, to borrow some rather infamous political phrasing. We have no idea, for instance, how fast the earliest OTT business models put forth by the pay-TV industry will grow, and whether they'll eventually support the kind of robust margins the business has grown used to.
Could pay-TV's most truculent carriage impasse finally break open by Major League Baseball's Opening Day? TWC is reportedly "actively pursuing" a deal to expand coverage of its Dodgers channel, SportsNet LA.
I can't say I'm not intrigued by the possibility--seemingly real this time--that Apple will launch a streaming pay-TV service. But at the end of the day, will it really matter to me if I'm seeing it via a groundbreaking $40-a-month OTT service, or the TV Everywhere component of a stripped down $40-a-month traditional cable package?