With Cable’s Success Comes Responsibility

May 7, 2007  •  Post A Comment

The kickoff of the Cable Show in Las Vegas this week provides a convenient time of reckoning for the cable industry.

The numbers are instructive: Cable providers’ investment in infrastructure has doubled in the past 10 years to a projected $13.7 billion in 2007, according to Kagan Research. Not only has that investment paved the way for networks to reach more viewers, but the lines that provided television in the past have become the key conduits for voice and data technology as well.

Proliferation of high-speed Internet, be it over cable lines or telecommunication companies’ fiber-optic lines, is key to the development of entertainment distribution. If the days since the iPod-ABC deal in 2005 have taught us anything, it’s that the Web can give studios and networks exciting new ways of engaging consumers. We encourage even more aggressive spending to ensure easy high-speed access.

The 531 national cable networks also deserve a nod for tripling spending on programming in the past 10 years, totaling $18.34 billion in 2006. The creative successes should embolden networks to invest even more in original programming.

The growth of the cable business has created the opportunity for the industry to give back. Through charitable organizations such as Cable Positive, Cable in the Classroom, C-SPAN and the Walter Kaitz Foundation, cable providers and networks have contributed billions of dollars in cash, airtime and other considerations to good causes.

As he approaches this year’s Cable Show, Kyle McSlarrow, president and CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, has been advocating several issues key to cable’s growth. We’re sympathetic to the message he has taken to Capitol Hill and other important legislative and regulatory arenas.

The NCTA has changed its approach to the issue of retransmission consent, which determines how much cable operators pay broadcast stations to transmit their over-the-air signals over cable pipelines. Mr. McSlarrow is arguing for more teeth in the legal requirement that stations negotiate in good faith.

We also share the industry’s leeriness over channel-by-channel pricing, based on our doubt that unbundling networks in cable providers’ packages would increase choices for consumers.

Along with cable’s success comes responsibility. Primarily, that responsibility is to the public that the industry serves. Fulfilling that responsibility may include more self-policing to keep inappropriate content from reaching the wrong eyes and ears.

Cable companies are finally seeing improved stock prices and earnings after years of languishing. We hope the industry takes the opportunity to invest in more programming, infrastructure and social capital.

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