Julian Clover reflects on The Cable Show, the annual gathering of the US cable industry, held last week in Washington DC
While there is much in common between the cable industries in the United States and Europe there are also significant differences.
Last week the NCTA held its annual congress and exhibition in the nation’s capital Washington (April 1 – 3). The Cable Show formed part of a weeklong set of events that incorporated both business and technical sessions. The organisation of the event was up a couple of levels on any such event in Europe and the signs around the Washington Convention Center pointing congressman as to which way to go suggested that the political classes take the cable industry very seriously indeed.
The amount of time given over to sessions discussing advertising pointed to a clear difference with cable connections stateside. In the US two minutes per hour of advertising is given over to the cablenets, and with pressure on advertising revenues, this is cause for concern. There is a greater partnership between the cable programmers ¬- they do of course also have outlets on satellite and IPTV – but their commitment to cable was underlined by the amount of floorspace taken in the exhibition hall. If my timing had of been better then I could have gotten Wolf Blitzer’s autograph.
With the demands on advertising revenues it is now possible to understand why there is such a buzz around personalised advertising, even if Europe doesn’t necessarily have the slots to fill, or the technology to implement it. The availability of airtime is a problem that is rapidly solving itself as more and more operators introduce on demand services that lend themselves to the insertion of pre-roll advertising based on the demographic of the purchaser. The result is infinitely preferable to the sponsored programming that is now being put into place, introducing a shampoo-based story arc into a drama screened on TNT, which was more of a throwback to the 1950s than most delegates realised.
Staying with friends I was also able to get a view on how cable was used in the domestic environment. An EPG where the numbers were seemingly drawn out of a hat, rather than categorised, and a Saturday morning spent trying to pin down the problems that had rendered the cable modem useless. Anecdotally I found three sets of people planning to switch to FiOS, the IPTV service offered by telco Verizon, graphically illustrating another of the issues facing cable on both sides of the pond.
US cable also knows how to look after the press; there was a welcome reception on the first night, coffee and food on tap in the press office, and working wi-fi proving that cable has the technology and is capable of deploying it.