Cable Image Crusade Draws Critics’ Jeers

Feb 6, 2006  •  Post A Comment

If the National Cable & Telecommunications Association believes its new multimillion-dollar “Cable: A Great American Success Story” media campaign, designed to soften cable TV’s image, can win the hearts and minds of its critics, it could be sorely mistaken.

Leading industry critics who reviewed the campaign’s initial wave of public service announcements and other promotional materials last week greeted the initiative with pans. The critics say the campaign-which will receive particular emphasis in Washington and last for at least a year-appears to be intended to boost cable’s image at a time when federal lawmakers are considering legislation that could have a profound effect on the cable TV industry, including proposals that could make it easier for telephone companies to get into the cable business.

The vehicles for NCTA’s initial round of crowing consist of a series of PSAs and print and billboard ads that extol cable entrepreneurs as a “ragtag group of dreamers” whose innovations have “made America a better place.”

“Their vision of their history looks like it was produced by the Sci Fi Channel,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

“You expect the next chapter to be how cable is going to cure cancer,” added Craig Aaron, communications director for the watchdog group Free Press.

NCTA President and CEO Kyle McSlarrow said of the industry’s new PR campaign: “Cable is a great American success story that has only just begun. I think we ought to be shouting from the rooftops how proud we are.”

During a briefing for reporters last week, Mr. McSlarrow said the campaign is intended to counter negative perceptions about cable.

“Lots of people like to beat up on cable,” Mr. McSlarrow said.

Along with the announcement of the campaign, NCTA unveiled a new logo for the association-one that’s supposed to convey the image of cable as a vibrant industry on the go.

“It’s interesting that they still see themselves as a ‘rag-tag group of dreamers’ while to most of the country they look like four or five big media conglomerates,” Mr. Aaron said.

The NCTA’s initial promotions leave out what Mr. Aaron sees as some critical parts of the industry’s history, “including all of the public policies that have been enacted over the years to entrench their monopolies at the local level,” he said.

Mr. Chester also takes issue with the campaign’s suggestion that cable has been a great innovator.

“If they couldn’t acquire [off-network] reruns and infomercials, cable would have very little to air,” Mr. Chester said.