High-quality content key to cable

NCTA panel not too worried about rival platforms

Digital upstarts like YouTube pose little threat to the cable industry because cable offers a higher quality of content that consumers recognize, a group of top industry executives agreed Wednesday during the closing session of the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn.'s Cable Show at the Mandalay Bay Resort.

"It's all about video," Liberty Global president and CEO Michael Fries said during the session, titled "All in for 2010: Fast-Forward Forecast." "If someone is worried about our industry, they are worried about video, but that's our turf. In my house, we're falling back in love with the TV in the living room."

Fries added that based on data, sites like YouTube have not been "impacting or cannibalizing our core business" but noted that the cable industry has to pace itself when introducing its own new products and services to consumers so as not to confuse or overwhelm them.

"The cable plan seems pretty clearly to have the advantage over other platforms," Time Warner president and COO Jeffrey Bewkes added. "We're flexible, and we have a lot of capacity. And our growth rate is terrific."

The panel also addressed the future of advertising. George Bodenheimer, co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and president of ESPN Inc. and ABC Sports, predicted that focusing on the younger demos in particular might become less important in the future.

"Both advertisers and the people that sell advertising are going to have to change how they think," he said. "If you look at demos in this age of where the population is going, this never-ending pursuit of young male or female demos is going to be of less importance going forward."

Bewkes also discussed the merits of advertiser-supported on-demand content versus content that consumers must pay for but contains no advertising, saying that he thinks the advertiser-supported model is probably going to wind up as the best choice.

Cox Communications president Patrick Esser noted that customers demand several things from their cable company, including reliability, responsiveness, relevance and quality customer service.

"They also want personalization; that's the world we are going into now — how to take mass-market products we invented 20 years ago and make them more segmented and personalized," he said.

The panel, moderated by CNN senior business correspondent Ali Velshi, also included Jennifer Nason, managing director and global head of technology, media and telecommunications at JP Morgan Securities.

Earlier in the day, a panel moderated by Fox Business Channel director of business news Alexis Glick discussed the future of advertising in a session titled "Sponsoring the Future: Advertising's Advanced Adventure."

Tony Ponturo, vp global media and sports marketing at Anheuser-Busch and president and CEO of Busch Media Group, noted in his keynote address that his company has increased its advertising spending in digital media platforms from 2% two years ago to 10% today. But he pointed out later during the panel that no one has figured out the best advertising model for new platforms.

Oxygen Media president and COO Lisa Gersh made a case that the traditional upfront model isn't as relevant as it used to be because "people are buying advertising 52 weeks a year," while Discovery Communications president and CEO David Zaslav argued that the way Nielsen Media Research measures TV viewership needs to catch up with the recent changes in the industry and the new ways people can watch TV.

The panel also included Time Warner Cable COO Landel Hobbs and Scripps Networks president John Lansing.

Nielsen Media Research is owned by the Nielsen Co., parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.