SPOTLIGHT ON: CABLE TV: Pay-per-view film deal could be cable’s great leap forward - Cable’s latest move shows it has learned from media owners, Alasdair Reid says

Cable has always had a huge perception problem. Think multi-channel television and the word that probably comes to mind is ’satellite’. For a number of reasons, timing and marketing being high on the list, TV choice has become synonymous with a delivery system. OK, not everyone can get cable, but even those who are wired up will tell you that cable gives you ’satellite channels’.

Cable has always had a huge perception problem. Think multi-channel

television and the word that probably comes to mind is ’satellite’. For

a number of reasons, timing and marketing being high on the list, TV

choice has become synonymous with a delivery system. OK, not everyone

can get cable, but even those who are wired up will tell you that cable

gives you ’satellite channels’.



Cable is definitely not sexy. It is associated with digging up roads,

pulling down trees and breaking promises. It has never managed to

develop a USP.



It could be argued that the industry has started to get its act together

over the past six months or so. For a start, there’s an ad campaign from

the sector’s leading company, Cable & Wireless Communications. And the

big players are promising to gang up to stop media owners dictating

terms that effectively penalise viewers for taking satellite channels

via cable.



Last week we saw the industry’s bravest move to date. The UK’s

second-biggest cable company, TeleWest, joined forces with three others

- NTL, General Cable and Diamond Cable - to sign a pay-per-view film

deal with Warner Brothers. The companies plan to set up four movie

channels in time for Christmas. Longer term, and with digital in mind,

the consortium wants to sign deals with other studios. It envisages

setting up around 60 movie channels, offering ’near video on demand’ -

that’s where you have a cluster of channels showing the same film but

with its start time staggered.



So is this first deal part of a great leap forward? Is cable breaking

out of its encirclement and taking the campaign to the enemy,

satellite?



Perhaps. There are some rather obvious wrinkles. For instance, the

Warner deal isn’t exclusive - Warner has signed a similar deal with

BSkyB. And Cable & Wireless, although assiduously courted by the cable

consortium, is reluctant to come in on the deal. It has even been

contemplating joining forces with Sky.



A division in the ranks now would not be good news for cable. But isn’t

the Warner deal a praiseworthy start? A sign that a dull delivery system

is starting not only to raise its profile but also to think like a media

owner?



Russell Boyman, the managing partner, broadcast, of Mediapolis, concedes

cable is moving in the right direction. But he still has doubts. ’Most

new connections to multi-channel TV these days are through cable. But

they are still buying into Flextech and Sky. If this is a further

attempt to establish a unique selling proposition for cable, then great.

I’m not sure it will succeed, though,’ he says.



Paul Longhurst, the media director of Ammirati Puris Lintas, believes

this is a significant challenge to BSkyB. ’Structurally, this is all

about the big question of owning the gateway to the consumer,’ he

states. ’If you own the gateway, do you own the consumer? Can you merely

own the gateway or do you have to be a content provider too? This deal

is all about finding out.’



Longhurst argues that Sky needs cable more than most people realise -

and that reliance will increase as digital comes along. But it’s not

necessarily about establishing a USP for cable as a delivery technology.

He adds: ’Forget about wires in the ground. Think of these companies as

retailers of TV programmes. They don’t have to offer different

programmes. They might be offering them at a cheaper price and, with pay

per view, you don’t have to have huge audiences to make it pay. The

thing is that cable households might not take the Sky movie channels

because they watch only a couple of movies a month. This might seem very

attractive indeed.



’We’re seeing the market moving from subscription to pay per view. The

biggest loser may well be Blockbuster video shops.’



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