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[ctpaa] Cable panel on Net neutrality

I’m at the Cable Television Public Affairs Association meeting to give a lunchtime talk to the marketing folks.

It’s in the Ritz-Carlton in DC, which tells you something about the industry. This is a well-dressed crowd. Maybe one-third are women. I’m the only one in the audience iwth an open laptop. (The Ritz provides wifi everywhere in the hotel for $10/day.)

I come in late to the morning panel. On it are Mark Robichaux (ed., Broadcasting & Cable Magazine), Mark Coblitz (SVP of Comcast), Laureen Ong (Pres, National Geographic Channel), Joseph Sapan (Pres, Rainbow Media), Michael Wilner (CEO, Insight Comms). Unfortunately, I don’t know who is who, except for the woman, and Robichaux, who is moderating. [As always, my live blogging is deeply flawed and more unreliable the closer to quotes and details it gets. Also, in the broad themes and characterizations. Also spelling.]


In response to a question about negative blogs, one of the panelists says that some of their operators actually have blogs. “We embrace it.” Another writes them off as a few people who like to complain. “Everyone in this room should read blogs every day about their companies,” says another. “If we’re not listening as much as we’re speaking to our constituents, we’re not doing our job.” [Then how about symmetric bandwidth up and down, hmmm?] Mark Robichaux, the moderator, says “Sometimes bloggers are canaries in the coal mine.”

Laureen Ong of National Geographic says that bloggers and others online answer questions for them in a useful way.

A la carte tv

How about a la carte TV, asks Robichaux? Josh Sapan (Rainbow Media) praises the diversity of cable offerings, all the way from BET to National Geographic. “It’s a great diversity of voice.” [Hah!] Mark Coblitz agrees that’s lots of diversity. Each person may only watch seven channels, he says, but the seven channels vary from person to person. Michael (?) says we need to argue against a la carte, just as we have to argue against Net neutrality.

Net neutrality

“What’s Net neutrality?”

“That’s easy: People should be able to go anywhere they want to, attach any device, and know what the terms of their service are.” [He’s implicitly citing the FCC’s Four Principles, which isn’t what most people mean by Net neutrality. And I left one out because I couldn’t keep up.] “Isn’t that that the Internet is all about?,” says another. “Anyone get to do anything they want,” he continues, I think sarcastically. The first says “This is all about sharing resouces so everyone gets the maximum out of them.” The task, he says, is to communicate the technical reasons why Net neutrality is bad. “People said in the year 2000 that we need to save the Internet, but we don’t want the Net of 2000. I want the Internet that’s coming,” the one that lets people do the new things they want to do.” [The one that shows Time-Warner movies and requires a company to pay for competitively fast service? Or the one where anyone can create and innovate in any way she wants, on equal footing?]

They complain that they don’t have the anti-net neutrality sound bite. “We talked about Net neutering, but that doesn’t work too well. That’s our own internal, because that’s what it does.” [Cool! “Net neutrality” works! We’re so used to complaining that the anti-NN folks beat us at marketing that it’s great to hear the same sort of whining coming from them.]

“The Internet is beginning to show the strains of its technology,” says another. “We offer 10 meg down and one meg up, which is a lot.” [Only compared to the pathetic speeds in the US, and only down, not up.] The geeks who measure it don’t always get that.” “The infrastructure can’t handle what everyone’s idea of what the Internet is unless someone starts to build it out.” People won’t be able to make the investment to enable, say, Netflix, to use the Internet effectively so that it works all the time and people have a good experience almost all the time.

Robichaux: “So the government would be handcuffing you.”

“Exactly. And it’s not just the last mile. It’s all along the way.”

Another: “Back in the lat 90s, there was a lot of fiber put in the ground. And guess what? We’re using it up.” [Most of the fiber is unused. And see Bruce Kushnick on the $200B of tax money the incumbents took to run fiber to our houses, but then forgot to.] “Net neutrality says everone should be able to go where they want and be able to pay. We don’t diagree with the four principles. But as soon as you put them down in writing, they’re open to interpretation. And that interpretation changes everything.”

“You know who’s making the money and making the NN argument? Little companies like Google.” He cites someone who said that NN would kill innovation. “If you want Net neutrality, it should be Internet neutrality for all the elements.” E.g., Google is too dominant, eBay owns its means of payment. [This is equivalent to saying that if you want free speech, you really ought to enforce all points of view in your dinner time conversation.]


Mark Robichaux: Satellite?

Ong: Brand counts. Viewers know that the facts on our channel are triple-checked.

Sapan: It’s made us better via competitive pressure. E.g., IFC hosts small films, and we let you watch it on-demand simultaneously when it’s released to the theaters

“Congress says the problem with out industry is that we don’t have competitors. But we wake up every day thinking about how we compete in the marketplace. Every business we’re in is extremely competitive on the distriution side.” [Still, most of us don’t have much of a choice.]

“We’re all losing eyeballs to the Internet, and I’d go so far as saying you can lose your phone before you lose your video, and you can lose your video before you lose your online connection. It trumps everything. The younger generation is turning TVs off. They’re on the Internet. They’re watching the same content thanks to some of our friends [sarcastic] making it available.” [Wow.]

User-generated content

Robichaux: “What’s the best idea for using the Internet as a tool for your company?”

Ong: We have a tech savvy audience so the Internet is something we use to promote back to the channel, to put programming out that they can’t see on the linear channel, and we recognize that it’s making us rethink our business because no one is going to watch a full-length documentary on the Internet. [Maybe not, at least this month. But we’ll move it onto our iPod our TV, if we’re able.]

Sapan: The area we’re messing with right now is mixing user generated content with video on demand and linear television. Not much has been done with that.

Robichaux: why is ugc important?

Sapan: The history of TV is you make something, copyright it, put it on TV and the max number of people watch it. Now each of those is violated: There is no owner, there is no copyright. There’s all these people spending all this time looking at user generated content. From a purely mercantile point of view, if there’s a lot of time spent on it, that one way or another will be translated into money. What intriques is how to connect what people are making with video on demand. In the case of indie films, we’re asking people to submit their short films. We curate them. We would like to place those films on the servers of cable companies in the geographic areas from which they come, so there could be “the best of” films in that area, and the “the best of the best of” that would make it onto the channel. [ Why do we need the cable companies to do this for us?] This is good because it gives them the fastest Internet connection to the video, video on demand, and a linear channel. We pursuing this on IFC and We TV.

Coblitz (Comcast): We’ve woven Internet into just about everything we do.


Robichaux: Take-aways: Be honest. Keep it simple. It’s about relationships. For example, when you’re talking to a Congressperson… [And here I thought he was talking about talking with customers!]

Questions from the floor.

Q: What are you doing about Internet safety?
A: (comcast) We provide parental controls to people who want them. Our 12 yr old said, “Dad, block anywhere you don’t want me to go…but then don’t look where I go.”

A: (Insight) It’s up to the parents, but most parents don’t use the controls.The bad experiences are behind us [??]
A: (Rainbow) The computers aren’t in the kids’ bedrooms.

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