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Guest Commentary : Sixty Years of Growing With Communities

May 18, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Sixty years ago, cable began with a simple concept: helping people get better reception to watch television. Hailing from the hills of Arkansas, Oregon and Pennsylvania to enhance reception of broadcast TV, cable has transformed the entertainment, information and communications experience for millions of consumers.
Today, we have nearly 65 million video customers, with 38 million enjoying digital cable. Beyond video, more than 36 million customers have cable high-speed Internet service. More than 16 million households now call themselves cable phone subscribers.
The story of the cable industry is a remarkable story of entrepreneurs, risk-taking and an explosion of new services and programming for consumers. But more than anything, cable has been a story of serving people and serving communities—a story often overlooked.
As a local business, cable produces jobs in nearly every community. In 2007, cable operators with 7,000 local cable systems employed 229,000 people in 50 states. Cable industry suppliers provided another 136,000 jobs. All told, the cable industry directly and indirectly employed 1.5 million community-based workers in 2007. Over the past five years, cable industry employment directly or indirectly accounted for nearly 5% of all net new jobs created by the U.S. economy.
Cable’s substantial franchise fees help fund local projects. In 2007, cable operators directly conveyed to local municipalities an estimated $2.8 billion in franchise fees for use in a wide variety of civic improvement and community affairs activities around the country.
Cable operators aren’t alone in serving their communities. They get a major boost from their programming partners, who often provide locally oriented content, outreach and partnerships. Cable programmers themselves manage scores of community-based initiatives, often in partnership with local cable systems, to give back to cable’s viewers and communities. Just a few current examples:
— The C-SPAN bus travels the nation, partnering with local cable systems to help explain the principles of American democracy, as it has done in 229 cities and towns in 43 states in just the past 18 months.
— History, one of the A&E Television Networks, connects students with the men and women of our armed forces through its “Take a Veteran to School” program.
— BET is in the forefront of raising awareness of HIV/AIDS in our most at-risk communities with its award-winning “Rap It Up” initiative.
— Through its “Team ESPN” community relations efforts, ESPN marshals employee volunteers who work to inspire sports fans across the country to embrace winning lifestyles through health, fitness and sport.
— Lifetime Television partners with more than 200 nonprofit organizations in communities across the country to fight violence against women, help stop breast cancer, empower women to participate in the political process and promote a wide variety of causes in support of its viewers.
The list goes on. These initiatives only have value based on the strength of the content that cable programmers today offer American homes.
People everywhere seem to connect with cable’s programming. For the sixth consecutive year, cable has gained a larger share of prime-time viewership, earning a 56% share in the February 2008 sweeps, up from 51.5% in February 2007.
Cable viewership now regularly exceeds the collective audience levels of broadcast TV across virtually all segments of the viewing day and all demographics.
Not only are cable’s viewers growing, but cable’s trophy case is as well. Cable is creating original, award-winning programming, claiming 42 Primetime Emmy Awards in 2007 and dominating the 65th annual Golden Globes, winning in 10 of the 11 television categories.
Since the beginning, cable has been a local business serving communities, and it remains the same today. Cable is proud to say that the communities in which we operate aren’t just places of business, they are our hometowns, too.
Kyle McSlarrow is president-CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

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