'New kids on block' will fade out

NCTA panel: Congloms unfazed by digital upstarts

Top execs at Time Warner, Viacom and News Corp. defended their ground against new-media competition and government regulation during a panel discussion Tuesday at the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn.'s Cable Show.

TW chairman and CEO Richard Parsons emphasized that the size of established conglomerates will be difficult for digitally minded upstarts to match.

"The notion that somehow the new kids on the block are taking over I think is a false notion," he said during the panel, held at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center here. "Ten years from now, our companies will be here; I'm not so sure about the new kids on the block."

The execs were just as tough on the FCC. Reacting to comments made Monday by FCC chairman Kevin Martin, they decried potential a la carte pricing as a disaster for consumers — a point echoed by NCTA president Kyle McSlarrow.

"The impetus behind a la carte is trying to contain content on cable, but this industry has been very good at self-regulation," Viacom Inc. president and CEO Philippe Dauman said.

The panel, moderated by William Kennard, managing director of the Carlyle Group, also addressed copyright infringement and piracy issues. Dauman, whose company is suing YouTube and Google for copyright infringement of Viacom's entertainment properties, called the issue of copyright protections "sacrosanct," saying that "up to a point we can deal with it, but past that point we have to protect rights while making content available to consumers on every available platform."

Parsons compared the fight over copyright protections in the U.S. to the Battle of Little Bighorn. "I'm reasonably confident we'll find a way short of all-out war to resolve this," he said. "The Googles of the world are the Custers of the modern world, and we are the Sioux nation. At the end of the day, they lose this war if they go to war, and they know that. We have to find a solution where all parties prosper."

News Corp. president and COO Peter Chernin said a la carte is "an example of government intrusion at its worst." His view is that parents should be given the appropriate tools to regulate what their children are watching and that the government should not interfere; many in the audience applauded his remarks.

"I don't think there's a parent in the world who would not think they are better at choosing content for their own children than the government," he said.

In a keynote address before the panel discussion, NCTA president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow responded to Martin's remarks. The FCC chairman had said in his keynote the day before that his main goal is to promote competition in the marketplace to create a level playing field and also reiterated his support for a la carte pricing.

McSlarrow shared a differing opinion on a la carte pricing and multicast carriage requirements.

"A la carte is a form of government-enforced unbundling, while multicast forces the bundling of broadcast programming that apparently couldn't make it in the free market, but you can't have it both ways," McSlarrow said.

Also on Tuesday at the Cable Show, Comcast Corp. chairman and CEO Brian Roberts demonstrated new high-speed wideband technology, capable of transmitting video much faster than a standard cable modem.

"What consumers do with all this speed is up to the imagination of the entrepreneurs of tomorrow," he said. "It's mind-boggling when you consider the potential use of a platform that can do something at this incredible speed."

In a news conference after the discussion, Chernin was asked about his company's plans to buy image-sharing Web site Photobucket and Dow Jones & Co., saying "no comment" to the former. As for Dow Jones, "I think what has been reported is reasonably accurate, but I prefer to keep this thing private and have no intention of talking about it publicly, and that's all I have to say about that."