Cable to Internet: Bring It On!
One of the most surprising things about coming to the annual Cable Show, taking place in Las Vegas this week, is how much it now really feels just like a smaller version of the gigantic Consumer Electronics Show that also takes place here in January.
Every booth seems to scream about interactivity and every single offering touts some kind of Internet link, whether it be elaborate Web pages offered by the Weather Channel or the many ways big cable giants can beef up their Internet sites and services to compete with the pure Web players. “On demand” is more than just a series of clicks on your still-too-complicated remote control. In fact, it is now the best way to describe what the cable industry–from programmers to content makers to distributors–imagine their world is. Services and content available to very demanding consumers, wherever, whenever, however.
This concept has been a long time in coming, and it has been an ongoing tussle between the cable business and the Internet. (After all, who can forget the whole ExciteAtHome debacle, when cable companies tried without luck to get in the Net business?) But the battle is only getting more interesting, as more programming moves to the Web and IP television moves closer and closer to the mainstream, even as cable operators (along with telecos) expand their broadband delivery businesses and get into the Net delivery business themselves.
So I was not surprised when a very sharp executive from Time Warner Cable said on a panel I was moderating here that he thought that the much-hyped Joost, the Web-based television service that is now in beta, would not work. Using peer-to-peer technology, Joost will be distributing commercial television shows and other kinds of video over the Web without the need for a set-top box.
The service, created by Skype and Kazaa founders Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, is somewhat aiming to take ground from the popular YouTube, but its model is more of a shot at the cable monoliths. It has signed big media companies as contributors, such as Warner Bros., CBS and Viacom, and could be the first significant attempt to offer a cable alternative, though many are trying.
But on the panel, called “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned From the iPod,” Peter Stern, who is executive vice president of product management at the cable giant, said he was “confident” that cable companies had a great chance of warding off Web invaders on its turf, like Joost. Noting that cable offered a soup-to-nuts package, which included critical billing and customer-service features, he said that no one can yet replicate the entire experience as well as cable can.
In any case, it will be interesting to see how these various and sundry experiments unfold.