'Cable' Heading Toward Extinction?

Jeff Baumgartner
The Bauminator
Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading
3/22/2019



I'm no mathematician, but the five-letter word "cable" is being treated like a four-letter word these days -- a stigmatized name that, some might say, has been fitted with a degree of disdain and contempt and should not be uttered in mixed company.

Or maybe it's a word that's just gotten so old, stodgy and out-of-date that it's simply worn out its relevancy.

The latest case in point is the new name of the American Cable Association, the organization that represents the regulatory interests of many of the nation's small/mid-sized service providers and independent cable (gasp! -- there's that word again!) operators. Timed with the org's annual Summit in Washington, DC, this week, it was rechristened as ACA -- America's Communications Association. (See American Cable Association Renamed ACA America's Communications Association .)

ACA, like others that have made similar name changes, reasoned that the new name properly reflects the evolution of the industry toward broadband, communications and connectivity.

"It's all about the communications and connections our members provide," ACA CEO Matt Polka stated in the announcement. "With this name change, we're recognizing that communication is the priority, not the medium."

But there's still something to be said for retaining some familiarity -- the ACA initialism stays. I suppose they could've taken a chance and changed the name to the American BroadBand Association (ABBA), but -- Mamma Mia! -- what an uproar that would've caused.

Still, ACA is really following a broader trend and shifting of the industry landscape. In the fall of 2016, The National Cable & Telecommunications (NCTA) tweaked its name to NCTA The Internet & Television Association. The "C" in the org's initials is still there, but it's not spelled out anymore. CTAM, meanwhile, doesn't spell out its acronym (Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing) anymore from what I can tell.

Operators have also jumped in. Buckeye CableSystem is now Buckeye Broadband. Cable One is changing its consumer brand to "Sparklight." Two of the nation's largest MSOs -- Comcast and Charter Communications -- have, of course, long been tightly associated with "cable," but in recent years have taken on the respective brands of Xfinity and Spectrum. While those monikers do give both an opportunity to splash a fresh look and feel on their products and services, they also put some distance between themselves and the past. (See Cable One to Rebrand as 'Sparklight'.)

Even before it was crystal clear that broadband had become the center of gravity for MSOs and the relationship they have with customers, former Cablevision Systems CEO Jim Dolan declared in 2015 that "connectivity is our No. 1 product now." Not sure if that's the first time he made that point, but Cablevision had, years before, already transitioned to the "Optimum" brand, which still lives on today at Altice USA.

If this keeps up, "Cable" will overtake Voldemort in the competition of who or what shall not be named.

I mean, what are the creatives in Hollywood going to do in the massively unlikely event that there's a sequel to The Cable Guy? I have a suggestion, but it just doesn't have the same ring:

But the bottom line here is that there is change occurring, past being prologue and all that. And that's probably a good thing. After all, the industry formerly known as cable is still collegial to a point, but, in this era of consolidation, it's not nearly as warm and chummy as it used to be. Plus, many of these service providers are getting more than knee deep into new businesses -- mobile and wireless, business-class offerings, industrial IoT services, among others. (See Five Signs That the US Cable Industry Is Fracturing .)

I get it -- calling this the "cable" industry and referring to service providers as "cable" operators just doesn't make a lot of sense anymore, even if old dogs like myself -- I'm a proud member of the Cable TV Pioneers, after all -- have a hard time putting them into a different kind of bucket without some pause.

But this trend could put some other organizations and companies in a bind. Will they need to rebrand too?

Phil McKinney, CEO of CableLabs, has insisted to me more than once that this is no longer the "cable" industry, based in part on the fact that so many of his members also offer mobile and wireless services.

The irony and challenge, of course, is the name of his organization starts off with that term. Granted, its for-profit subsidiary has a different, new-agey name (Kyrio), but what can it do? Take the route that the late Prince took and create a symbol and be referred to as: The Labs Formerly Known as CableLabs? Seems a mouthful, no?

If the industry is to be serious about releasing itself from the term, there are lots of other examples -- The Cable Center in Denver, The National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC), The Cable Hall of Fame and even the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers.

Light Reading also doesn't get a complete pass -- our annual Cable Next-Gen Technologies and Strategies event has "cable" right up front. But having "next-gen" in the title is a clear indicator that we're projecting forward. So, we're good! No qualms there! And, yes, my opinion on that is utterly biased.

Some programmers do get a pass. How many of you knew that C-SPAN stood for Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network? Also, I can't recall the last time anyone referred to CNN as the Cable News Network.

Then again, you could be Cable Cable, the small operator based in Ontario, Canada. Double trouble for them!

But there's something to be said for brand equity and preserving industry history and heritage. Yes, CableFAX, the pub I worked at some 20 years ago and a place where friends continue doing a great job keeping a finger on the pulse of this industry, is still going strong. So, I'm not ignoring the fact that the name combines a couple of seasoned terms, but, to me, changing that to anything else would seem an affront to a long-standing industry institution.

While there are very good reasons for the industry to distance itself from a term that has worn out its relevance given the current trajectory, it'll be a long time before it's mostly removed from the day-to-day nomenclature and goes the way of the Dodo. Likewise, there are some solid reasons for it to stick around in some forms and not get completely lost. After all, it was "cable" and all that it represents -- good and bad -- that built the industry's heritage and the foundation on which it now stands.

Cable is dead! Long live Cable!

— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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