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What's Cookin' at Cable Congress

Ray Le Maistre
3/6/2013
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LONDON – Cable Congress 2013 -- Hundreds of executives from Europe's cable sector (and beyond) have converged on the Lancaster Hotel in the U.K.'s capital to discuss the sector's future, but there's one topic dominating conversation at the show.

  • It's hard to get away from chat about Liberty Global Inc.'s planned purchase of Virgin Media Inc. and the impact that it will have on the U.K., European and cable markets. So there was a full house for the keynote address from Virgin Media's outgoing (in both senses) CEO Neil Berkett. (See Liberty Makes $23.3B Play for Virgin Media.) He took the opportunity to appraise the sector and look back at his company's evolution from a fragmented operator with massive losses to a focused company that's generating profits. His main points for the sector were that cable operators can succeed by offering simple-to-understand packages of services to consumers and businesses and by delivering against marketing messages. "We pride ourselves on being straightforward … we deliver what we offer," he noted, making particular reference to broadband speeds. Of course, he didn't miss the chance to warn regulators and governments against pursuing interventionist and clumsy regulatory and policy strategies, "even if they have the best intentions." And he cited the introduction of TiVo Inc.-powered set-top boxes as an example of product/service innovation that was "leaving rivals behind." The TiVo question is one of the main topics of conversation here: Virgin Media has installed the box in 1.3 million U.K. homes, but will Liberty Global ultimately seek to introduce its Horizon gateway into U.K. homes should the acquisition be successful? The prevailing view is that Horizon is on the horizon for Virgin Media customers… (See Liberty Global, Virgin on Divergent Video Paths.)
  • Berkett was just one of a number of cable operator executives who cited a desire to engage in more depth with customers. What's missing, though, is any detail of how the operators plan to go about this, beyond the introduction of enhanced network and home networking technology and some user surveys. He clearly sees the need for a new focus for the industry. "[Cable operators] need to move beyond pure product innovation and make the customer experience as easy as possible," he stated during his keynote. (See Beyond Cable's Tech Obsession.) In another conference session, Rosalia Portela, the CEO of Spanish operator ONO, noted the need to "get closer to the customers," while Liberty Global board member Miranda Curtis stated that following the "massive investment in the networks, now there needs to be greater attention on customer service and customer interfaces … we need to discover how our customers are using" technology and services.
  • Wireless, and how it fits into the mix, is a topic that's taxing a lot of cable minds in Europe. Mike Fries, president and CEO at Liberty Global, told attendees that "everyone in this market needs a mobile strategy … Having a quad play option is now an important piece of the puzzle." It's not just about mobile. Wi-Fi is increasingly important to Europe's cable players, as the likes of Virgin Media and Ziggo B.V. have shown. (See Virgin Lands City Wi-Fi Deals and Ziggo Tries AlcaLu's lightRadio Wi-Fi.) Now Liberty Global is about to make a major Wi-Fi push, with its plans to enable its customers to hook up to each others' home gateways when they are out and about. The company's CTO, Balan Nair, noted that every home router being shipped has an additional Wi-Fi SSID that will enable authorized customers to log onto each other's routers securely as if they were public hotspots. (See Broadcom Brings Wi-Fi Roaming to the Home and Intel's Docsis 3.0 Chips Also Do Wi-Fi Sharing.) There has been plenty of talk here about how Europe's cable companies would like to enable "Wi-Fi roaming," and enable cable customers to use the Wi-Fi services of other MSOs when abroad, in the same way that the U.S. operators are striking Wi-Fi access agreements with each other. Look out for more on this from the European operators. (See Cable's Still Finding Its Way on Wi-Fi and Cable Goes Big With Wi-Fi Roaming.) — Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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