In closing, VOD and advertising take center stage

Closing General Session Cable Show 2007The cable industry’s charge for the next 12 months: Make just about every cable network available on demand, and develop an advanced-advertising management system for cable that rivals what’s now on the Internet.

Those were the directives issued by Time Warner Inc. President and Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Bewkes in a spirited conclusion to the 2007 Cable Show’s slate of more than 80 panel sessions. At the Show’s closing General Session (the photo is of the laser show that opened the panel), Bewkes suggested some of the biggest opportunities for cable revolve around new variations of advertising support that have propelled television through decades of growth.

Bewkes was one of several panelists to point to video as an evolving growth engine for an industry that frequently seems consumed by new-media drivers like high-speed Internet service and telephone service. Joining him was Liberty Global Inc. President and CEO Michael Fries, who said new enhancements to television, like high-definition resolution and time-shifting, are creating a renaissance of sorts for a very familiar medium. “At my house, we are falling in love with TV again,” Fries said. The panelists also were bullish on a new era for targeted advertising over cable. ESPN President George Bodenheimer envisioned a more granular approach to viewer targeting prevailing over time, with advertisers progressing beyond “the never-ending pursuit of the young male or young female” to pursue more refined viewer demographics.

The focus on television’s future doesn’t mean advancements in data throughput and mobile communications aren’t captivating the industry. Cox Communications President Patrick Esser pointed optimistically to the outlook for huge leaps in cable data bandwidth, saying they’ll create a new palette for applications that will tantalize customers. But regardless of the application, Esser said the key to success will remain preserving trusted relationships with customers and retaining cable’s reputation as the a sort of do-it-all service provider than can fix problems when they occur.

The panelists, queried by CNN senior business correspondent Ali Velshi, also addressed the phenomenon of user-generated content and the much-cited “long tail” theory of digital media, which suggests mass-market appeal of content will give way to broader, but smaller, audiences for niche productions. Time Warner’s Bewkes resisted that analogy, saying user-generated content appearing on  YouTube and elsewhere is a modern-day variation of an enduring arena that’s similar to baseball’s “minor leagues” – a breeding ground for creativity, the best of which will rise up  to attain mainstream appeal.

– Stewart Schley

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