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Digital TV, VOD Creeps Along at Cable Show

14 Apr, 2005 By: Gary Arlen

News Corp.'s Peter Chernin at the NCTA show.

The next generation of home entertainment will just have to cool its heels a bit.

That was the tone from a variety of technology and content executives during the recent National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) annual convention in San Francisco.

On the national rollout for digital TV, subsidies for digital TV receivers to homes that cannot afford such devices are “not going anywhere,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), a member of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, speaking at the show.

A blunt “No” for the giveaway plan also came from House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.).

The legislators agreed that the DTV transition deadline being pushed by their colleagues — maybe as soon as December 2006 — is not likely, although Eshoo acknowledged that a “line is going to be drawn.”

Sensenbrenner and Eshoo also touched on issues such as the Grokster file-sharing case now in front of the Supreme Court.

“You know there is not going to be consensus,” said Sensenbrenner, who expects a “muddled” decision will force Congress to step grudgingly into the copyright case.

The NCTA convention was laden with contradictory messages from speakers and exhibitors. For example, a “Hollywood Squires” panel of studio executives shot down cable's video-on-demand (VOD) dreams, contending that movies and other prime Hollywood fare will not be released to VOD promptly for at least five to 10 years, so long as DVDs remain a cash cow to studios.

News Corp. president/COO Peter Chernin, who has overseen Fox's digital initiatives, went a step further in his technology skepticism, praising DVDs and bluntly characterizing “everything else [as] negative: HD [high-definition TV] is a cost center, so is launching new networks; DVR threatens our ad business.”

VOD was also the battleground at an on-demand advertising session. Jon Mandel, chairman of MediaCom US ad agency, accused fellow panelist David Cassaro, president of Comcast Network Sales, of not sharing information about VOD viewership and not giving advertisers or program suppliers a reasonable share of subscription VOD fees.

High-definition TV took more licks during several panel sessions.

For example, Roger Keating, president of Time-Warner Cable's Los Angeles division, said, “We don't have a burning desire to hasten” HDTV rollout because of channel demands.

“It will take a decade, maybe two, before we see all-HD” service, Keating predicted.

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