Zaslav: Cablers should embrace new media

But he warns that improper use can 'diminish' the industry

Cable TV services and programmers need to get involved with new devices like the iPad and new distribution platforms like mobile and social media or they will become irrelevant. But if they get it wrong, they can become extinct.

That's the view of Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav, who was part of a panel on new delivery systems and innovations in TV programming on Tuesday at the Cable Show. He said his company has been looking at everything from mobile to 3D, for the U.S. and around the world.

What Discovery has found is that some of what has been done is wrong and can threaten the exiting industry as consumers are exposed to a world of alternatives to the brands and services they have grown up with.

For instance, he cited "the jump to put longform content on all these different platforms" as a mistake. Zaslav said it "didn't make business sense or sense to consumers."

He said the rush to put longform quality content on mobile or wireless delivery systems has not been accepted by consumers but has diluted the impact of cable. "If you put all our content on these platforms," Zaslav said, "you diminish cable."

Time Warner CEO Glenn Britt said that the cable industry has a way of "over-complicating things. Every time we see a screen or a new device, we think this is a new business, but really all that is happening is there's tremendous convergence."

Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman and others said it is still about content, which is why his company is experimenting with ways to create strong programming that will work for consumers whether it is delivered as traditional programming, on demand or as part of a social media network.

"The more interactive features we incorporate into entertainment, which really comes out of the gaming idea, the more people will be engaged in our products," Dauman said.

If the panel -- which also included Kevin Tsujihara of Warner Bros., Keith Lee of Booyah and Patrick Esser of Cox Communications -- agreed on one thing, it was that people want their content when they want it and where they are. The challenge is how to provide that without making it too complicated or expensive.

Britt said cablers are willing to pay retransmission fees to broadcasters, but the system to do that is not functioning well.

When cable pulls channels in disputes over money, that doesn't sit well with consumers. "If we take channels away," Esser said, "we invite others into the conversation."

In other words, if consumers are unhappy, they will look for other ways to get their content.

On the other hand, new programming can be a big draw. Zaslav said that Discovery is counting on Oprah Winfrey's new OWN network. "Oprah is a brand onto herself," he said. "There's a big opportunity for us to build a whole new brand, a whole new niche, that cable viewers will flock to."
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