**As published in RCR Wireless News** LOS ANGELES – Kicking off the final day of the cable industry’s big soiree, Federal Communications Commission Chair Julius Genachowski tried to dampen obvious concerns in the room over his latest regulatory plans. After duly applauding the cable industry for the massive investment it put into building broadband infrastructure, even going so far as to call it a “great American success story,” he pointed out how badly the country is lagging on rate of innovative change. Whether or not those in the audience shared his sentiment, Genachowski said his core goal is to drive faster connections and reap the rewards that will flow from greater broadband deployments and innovation. He believes broadband capacity, penetration and the nation’s access to the Internet as a whole will be one of, if not the, largest driving factor in job growth and social change for the country at large.
Following his keynote interview, a group representing a wide spectrum of media darlings today took to the stage to dig deeper into their thought process and give a better sense of what’s happening on the ground and in board rooms across America. Right out of the gates, super-agent Ari Emanuel, CEO at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, made the case for redefining TV and content as their traditionally known. He argued that television and content as his kids understand it today are both entirely different phenomenon than what he grew up on in the ‘60s and ‘70s. “To put them in boxes,” he said, “I think is an injustice to what’s going on right now.” Emanuel has made a fantastic career and mountain of wealth out of monetizing content created by his talent. He added, “How that happens is kind of how we’re looking at the business differently.” Few services or start-ups have changed the conversations taking place in media more than Twitter. So it only makes sense that Evan Williams, founder and CEO of the social media juggernaut, should have his say on how crowd-sourced conversations will play a role in the future of media. While it’s clear that many in the cable industry are still hesitant to embrace change on many levels, Williams argued that Twitter should be viewed as a compliment to any form of content or creative talent. Twitter at its most basic form is all about what people are talking about and what they care about, he said. Thriving on live events, such as TV shows that regularly pop up on Twitter’s list of trending topics during airtime, at least half of the interest among Twitter’s user base is because everyone is sharing these experiences together. Moreover, those conversations drive connection and will connect viewers that may or may not know each other, he said. Seeming to embrace that idea, Matthew Blank, chairman and CEO of Showtime Networks Inc., said, “I don’t think in a couple years we’ll be talking about social media discreetly anymore.” But will a couple years from now be too late? And just how can media embrace all these innovations and tools that are cropping up around their existing ways of business? “I don’t think social networking for a television experience has begun to be invented yet,” said Tom Rogers, CEO and president of TiVo Inc. But he sure seems to know where Twitter’s value won’t make any real dollars or sense. “Twitter on a TV screen? That’s like e-mail on a TV screen. Who cares?” he said. Williams concurred, adding that he would always prefer to watch shows and other A-class content on his big TV screen while receiving tweets on an iPad, for example. He too doesn’t see much sense in having both forms of media overlapping in one place, but it would be “awesome if they could talk to each other,” he said. “Our goal is to make people’s lives better and we think we’re going to make a lot of money doing that,” Williams said. “Once these things are connected you can do a lot more.” Thomas Rutledge, CEO of Cablevision Systems Corp., quickly jumped in to tell Williams that will be happening soon. Indeed, earlier in the week, Comcast announced its new Xfinity Remote app for the iPad and Cablevision is working on a similar product it’s calling PC to TV Media Relay. More than anything else for the cable industry, Apple Inc.’s iPad is an interface, Rogers said. He argued that’s where cable operators need to improve most, particularly since cable boxes and their user interfaces aren’t any more modern than they were 15 years ago. Rutledge too sees the iPad as a “leapfrog, enabling device” that will improve cable services while still working with existing TV sets. “Eventually we’re going to be in a situation where distribution is a commodity,” Emanuel said. Whether it’s being delivered by a platform controlled by Apple, Google Inc. or whoever, he said it will continue to make more economic sense for agents like him to take ideas to Showtime, whereas other times it might make more sense on other platforms. Perhaps that explains why, as Blank put it, many directors aren’t thinking about someone watching their creative output on a 3-inch screen. Hollywood always follows the money and until any real return on investment flows from mobile devices, we shouldn’t expect these executives emphasis on tried-and-true business models to change.