**As published in RCR Wireless News** LOS ANGELES – The mobile quotient during the first day of the National Cable & Telecommunications conference was disappointingly light. Particularly light, considering telecommunications is right there in the name. Mobility plays an important and mostly dominant role in telecom but if this industry gathering is any sign, it still has a long way to go before it comes into the spotlight for cable.
To check in on the cable industry’s long-distance relationship with mobile, RCR Wireless News has extrapolated some of the wireless points that were scored in the first day of the show. Comcast Corp.’s chairman and CEO Brian Roberts teased mobile at one point during his morning keynote, but it wasn’t anything more than a sidebar in essence. Later in the afternoon on the main stage at the Nokia Theatre, Keith Lee, CEO and co-founder of Booyah, had the unique opportunity to address the idea of “different screens” while executives from Time Warner Cable, Viacom Inc.; Cox Communications Inc.; Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group and Discovery Communications flanked him on both sides. MyTown, Booyah’s flagship product, has grown to more than 2 million users and each spends an average of 70 minutes playing the game every day, Lee said. Only 20% of Booyah’s users generate around 80% of its revenue, he added. But more importantly for the mobile question, he said, “people want to be a part of shared experiences.” He believes the technologies that define smartphones like location, augmented reality and image capture will lead the way in fundamentally changing how users interact with different experiences in content. David Zaslav, president and CEO of Discovery Communications, looks through the mobile prism with his content lens. “As powerful as the technology is, it only matters if you have great people and a great story,” he said. “We’re non-fiction … but that means we have real people that people really look up to and admire.” When it comes to being on multiple platform, “you have to be there or you’re going to lose a generation” of potential viewers, he added. “There was a rush in this industry to take this quality content we developed for the TV screen” and to push it out, Zaslav said, but added that it’s become smarter along the way. Time Warner Cable’s chairman, president and CEO Glenn Britt honed in on the business of dollars and cents. “Every time we see a new screen or new technology, we think that’s a new business,” he said, but “really all that’s happening is convergence.” While everything is crashing together quickly, as he put it, cable companies should improve the packaging of content and allow customers to pay for programming once and access it wherever they want. The notion that customers should pay once for content and virtually take it with them where they please came up at many points during the day, but the discussion never got any deeper. Maybe the first goal for cable companies should be to at least free people from their couches and allow them to roam their home in a content-equipped cloud. Patrick Esser, president of Cox Communications Inc. seems to hold that position in tandem with its plans for a wider mobile play. He said mobility is important to the company and that once customers can take advantage of wired and wireless access to content more ubiquitously, it will forever change viewing behavior across the spectrum. The mobile discussion reached its highest decibel later in an afternoon during panel dedicated to technology and strategy for the business of wireless communications. While mostly mirroring the ideas shared by their corporate bosses, a few panelists struck into a more serious chat about mobile technology, IP-based infrastructure and whether voice is more than simply a killer app. “As a cable operator we have traditionally owned and operated networks in the home,” but are moving into partnerships with companies like Clearwire to take a firm leap into mobile, said Mike Roudi, group VP of mobile services at Time Warner Cable. “You have this place between in-home networks and macro networks … where you can start to innovate,” he said. “The buying and the consumption experience will be different … you can really start to define a customer experience that is enabled for what that customer is doing at that time.” Perhaps it’s more a statement about Time Warner’s decision to not rush into mobile, but Roudi thinks “the first cuts of mobile video, whether they were on 2G or 3G networks, were a novelty.” He offered a somewhat split view, however, on the role of voice in a cable-married-to-mobile world. “People will tolerate a level of session continuity on data that is far worse than on voice,” he said, which would point to the importance of a voice-driven network. But also added, “when I think about voice in our business, we absolutely think about it as an IP-based application.” Roudi wrapped up the panel with a point about femtocells and Wi-Fi solving the same problem. He pointed to femtocells as only a carrier-specific need because of the vast number of devices, carriers have running on their networks without Wi-Fi connectivity. Taking the long road to mobility seems to be something the cable operators are relishing for the time being. As Roudi put it, “I have the luxury of being able to think about wireless and building from the ground up.”