Comcast Corp. Chief Executive Brian Roberts opened the annual cable television convention Tuesday with a demonstration of his company’s new Xfinity remote control, which now recognizes voice commands.
From the convention hall stage in Chicago, Roberts asked the Xfinity system to “show me the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger.”
Two monstrous screens behind him displayed an explosion and massive fireball consuming a house in Los Angeles, a scene from Universal Pictures’ juggernaut hit “Furious 7.”
“That pretty much sums it up,” Roberts deadpanned of his company’s failed $45-billion merger. The crowd roared with approval.
“We really have moved on,” Roberts said.
So began the newly named INTX: the Internet and Television Expo conference, which previously was known as the National Cable Show.
The reason for the name change, National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. Chief Executive Michael Powell said, is to recognize a new vision and the new realities. The pay-TV industry is doing its best to start a new chapter and move away from a stodgy image of fat cables and poor customer service.
Powell was asked why drop the word “cable.” “I hate the name,” he said. “It has a proud history but it needs to be retired.”
Powell acknowledged the tremendous investments by the cable TV industry, including $60 billion in upgrades over just the last year, and the build-out of broadband cable lines has allowed the technology revolution to take hold and the Internet to prosper.
“We shouldn’t declare its demise prematurely,” Powell said of the cable industry, noting that there continue to be nearly 100 million homes in the U.S. with pay-TV subscriptions. “This industry has deployed the most sophisticated technical infrastructure in the world in the fastest possible way.”
But the new focus of the convention, organizers said, is to embrace disruption and bring together “friends and frenemies": legacy companies and the new guard that is helping guide the development of the Internet.
Two of those “friends and frenemies” -- Roberts and Peter Chernin, the former president of News Corp. -- took the stage after Powell.
Chernin has played a key role in the industry’s transition, helping to advise Comcast nearly five years ago during its takeover of NBCUniversal nearly five years ago.
He now runs the independent media company Chernin Group, which has Internet and international investments.
Chernin was frustrated two years ago in his efforts to lead a team that tried to buy the online video site Hulu, which Chernin helped create when he was at News Corp./Fox. Hulu’s three owners -- Walt Disney Co., 21st Century Fox and the Comcast-owned NBCUniversal (which has a passive interest) -- ended up holding onto the venture.
“What you are seeing is a tremendous distribution explosion,” Chernin told the conference audience. “I’m not convinced that you are going to see the collapse of the [pay-TV programming] bundle. I think that is wildly overstated.”
However, Chernin said, the digital disruption will force the pay-TV industry to adapt and do a better job providing consumers with the channels they want.
“In some ways, it will force the bundle to justify itself, and that is obviously not the worst thing in the world,” he said.
Chernin said that in the new media world, big brands will survive.
He ticked off several important brands and noted that a brand must mean something. Services have to provide consumers with substance and can’t simply be aggregators, he said, because consumers have become their own individual aggregators.
“Brands are driving enormous value,” Chernin said. “Technology has made the world come a lot closer. The overall future is incredibly bright. There are a gazillion consumers out there all over the world.”
Roberts sounded a similar note.
“It is such a new world,” he said. “It is good to keep our eyes open and .. not just live in the past.”