Set-tops will become extinct, Time Warner Cable CEO Britt says

BOSTON--Cable set-tops will become extinct, and eventually be replaced by smart TVs and other IP-connected devices such as gaming consoles, Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) CEO Glenn Britt told attendees at the opening session here at The Cable Show.

Asked by CNN anchor and panel moderator Erin Burnett if set-tops would "go the way of the dodo bird, Britt said: "Yes--although people from [set-top vendors] Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Motorola [Mobility] (NYSE: MMI) probably don't want to hear that."

Britt said CE devices will allow the cable industry to offer subscribers a better user interface than those that it could offer through digital cable set-tops. Time Warner Cable announced last week that it was beginning to allow subscribers to access some programming from their cable subscriptions through connected TVs from Samsung and Roku's over-the-top video set-top.

The cable industry's "video platform worked well for a long time, but it's somewhat archaic. Few people can write software to it," Britt said.

AOL (NYSE: AOL) CEO Tim Armstrong and Discovery Communications (Nasdaq: DISCA) CEO David Zaslav joined Britt on a panel during the opening general session here at The Cable Show. Armstrong said new technology and distribution platforms create opportunities for programmers and content owners to develop brands that could reach viewers on TV, the Web and mobile devices.

"It seems pretty clear there's a massive opportunity for people to come up with different formats, new formats, and also mix in mobile from a platform standpoint," Armstrong said.

TV Everywhere distribution was another key topic of debate on the panel. Zaslav said he supports the idea of TVE distribution, where cable operators and programmers allow authenticated subscribers to access content from their cable TV subscriptions on the Web and mobile devices. "Somebody is going to come over the top," Zaslav said, noting that cable operators, through their relationships with subscribers, are positioned well to offer multiplatform content.

But Britt suggested that programmers and operators still don't see eye-to-eye on how multiplatform distribution terms should be accounted for in carriage deals that networks strike with MSOs. 

Britt and Zaslav were also critical of the idea of Dish's Hopper multiroom DVR, which allows subscribers to automatically remove all commercials from primetime programming from the Big Four broadcast networks, with Britt noting that both advertising and subscription revenue are essential for the industry. "I don't think we want to destroy one of those revenue streams," Britt said.

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