Technology’s Accelerating Innovation is Good for Business, Industry Chiefs (Mostly) Agree

If there’s one key recurring topic at The Cable Show this year, it’s that the disruptive power of technological innovation is accelerating, upending business models and spawning rapid-fire strategy changes for both cable operators and content producers.  The question of how to harness this power to keep pace with consumer expectations got a lively airing yesterday during an A-list General Session devoted to the topic of how to manage the wave of “media everywhere” while maintaining healthy business models.

The Cable Show 2010, Wednesday General Session

Wednesday

For the most part, the assembled leaders were in a state that was jokingly referred to as “violent agreement” over the notion that the revolutionary changes in technology promise greater consumer benefits while offering the prospect of greater revenue streams.  “The pace of innovation is speeding up and you can’t pretend otherwise.  Competition is speeding up, and you can’t pretend otherwise. We want to be in the vanguard of technology of where the consumer wants to go,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said.

Leslie Moonves, President and CEO, CBS Corp., couldn’t agree more.  “Every single piece of technology that has come into being is a friend to content.  The more places you make it available, the more you get paid for it.”  Jeff Bewkes, Chairman and CEO of Time Warner Inc. also believes in riding the wave of technology’s progress.  “I think there is more good than bad in this.  If you just stay at 50,000 feet, the people who are viewing all over the world are watching it more in  every category.  They are spending more money on it.  The hits are more successful than they were before,” he said.

Not everyone, however, wholeheartedly embraced the idea that technology’s accelerating innovation is an entirely good thing.  Tom Rothman, CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment, repeatedly struck some cautionary notes.  “I actually don’t believe it is ultimately good for content creators and distributors for everything to be everywhere at once,” he said. “All those transitions through the years have all been managed by windows.  I think windowing is going to be required by all sides of the equation… but I think it’s going to be hard to do.”

Interactivity, social networking and the proliferation of new devices are the three major developments driving the revolution.  Netscape Founder and General Partner of Andreessen Horowitz Marc Andreessen used gaming upstart Zynga as a model for how these developments are changing content while creating new business models.  Zynga makes content available for free, hoping to upsell users once they’re hooked, and it has adapted its offerings to new device platforms including the iPhone and iPad.  “The lesson I would draw from that is that format changes are possible once you get interactivity,” he said.

Comcast is well aware of the need to adapt services and content to new platforms.  Brian Roberts showed a demo of Xfinity Remote, his company’s latest effort to get ahead of the technology curve.  Xfinity Remote enables customers to access program guides and view content on the iPad — or control TV viewing choices via the iPad – and comes complete with social features including the ability to invite friends to share the same viewing choices in their own homes or on their own devices.  “This liberates us from the cable box and puts it in the power of the consumer,” Roberts said.

Despite the rush toward interactivity and new platforms, at the end of the day the story and the caliber of the content still matter, the panelists agreed.  “The fundamentals of storytelling are the same whether you are looking at Avatar… or watching an episode of Family Guy on a mobile phone,” Rothman said.

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