Most of the discussion swirling about making paid programming ubiquitous across platforms calls for no additional charges for the consumer. Pay for it once and you get it on TV, broadband or mobile. Most of the payoff for operators would come in lower churn, new subscribers and increased interest in broadband. But that doesn't mean everything a cable subscriber gets online or on mobile would be free; that's not the case now when subscribers order pay-per-view movies, for instance. Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts alluded to the possibilities during the opening session of The Cable Show in Washington D.C. when he mentioned the concept "as a great opportunity to find additional revenue, to grow the pot." The best comparison to what Comcast might do with On Demand Online is what it already does with video on demand: standard content is included and subscribers of premium services Showtime, HBO, Starz and others, can access that content on demand, while some movies, events, etc., are offered as pay VOD. Expand the options to get to the content or find platform-centric parallels, and operators may be able to find that additional revenue.
At another session Wednesday afternoon, Time Warner Cable's Peter Stern suggested a combo solution for raising revenue and alleviating cannibiliazation concerns that the TV Everywhere idea proposed by TWC's former parent Time Warner (NYSE: TWX). Asked how TWC would handle subscribers with a second home in another operator's territory who might use their remote broadband access to replace that subscription, Stern reminded the packed room that TWC is already moving toward billing based on how much broadband subscribers use over a base amount: "Assuming we're able to be successful, the model you describe won't work. They will find they end up paying on the high-speed online side."
Suddenlink Chairman and CEO Jerry Kent, on the opening panel with Roberts, Cox Communications President Pat Esser and Clearwire (NSDQ: CLWR) Chairman Craig McCaw, told moderator William Kennard that he's all for embracing the internet but is looking for something between the music industry's ignoring the internet to start and the newspaper industry's giving it away. Making content available to subscribers who already pay could fit. Kent added, "Some think we should charge extra; I'm not sure about that."
Broadband video is already powering the growth in Comcast's broadband business, Roberts said, while for the programmers (a category that also includes Comcast), "it represents a new opportunity to try to monetize in this horrific advertising environment." McCaw, a former cable operator, warned programmers not to take the licensing fees they get for granted: "*ESPN* would be nothing without the cable industry. I remember when they used to pay us to take ESPN."
Roberts, who quickly picked friend over foe when it comes to the online video sites as befits someone whose company owns video portal Fancast, had some thoughts for broadcasters. "Broadcast television is typically free save for a little thing called retransmission consent." (That's when broadcasters ask multichannel operators to pay them for the privilege of carrying their networks.) Roberts said it's hard for him to imagine why broadcast networks are not making more of an accelerated push into as many platforms as possible." Then again, we could hear some more along those very lines Thursday when *Disney* CEO Bob Iger and *News Corp*. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch bookend the programming day with keynotes.
By Staci D. Kramer