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The Cable Show

Zapping and the Mothers of Innovation (Pt 2)

May 22, 2012

Zapping and the Mothers of Innovation is a series looking at innovation at The Cable Show 2012. Written by contributor, Russell Howard.

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Today I continue my mission to identify innovations on The Cable Show floor while pondering “innovation.”

We pride ourselves on celebrating innovation as a virtue. In reality, though, innovation is not always welcome and is usually quite disruptive.

Take zapping, for example.  It got its start, along with its pesky first-cousin “time-shifting,” with the innovation of the home VCR.  It was considered so disruptive that it took the Supreme Court to determine that an individual has the right to record copyrighted content for personal use.

But even as zapping undermined ad-centric business models, the aftershocks sparked new forms of advertising, new measurements, new ad sales currencies.  It impacted programming content, interstitial structure, and marketing.  Innovation leads to more innovation.  Ironically, we innovate to give consumers ever more control, which drives us to innovate to counter the very behavior we help fuel.

Now, the latest disruption is DISH’s “Hopper” DVR with Auto-Hop functionality, the cruise control of commercial zapping.  The objecting roars of network advertising titans echoed in the upfront canyons this past week.

“Viewers love to skip commercials,” Vivek Khemka, VP DISH Product Management, said in a prepared statement. “With the Auto Hop capability of the Hopper, watching your favorite shows commercial-free is easier than ever before. It’s a revolutionary development that no other company offers and it’s something that sets Hopper above the competition.”

But the cable executives on Monday morning’s General Session also weighed the downsides:

AOL Chairman Tim Armstrong, Time Warner Cable chief Glenn Britt, and Discovery Communications President David Zaslav… took time to discuss [Hopper]… Zaslav described the technology as “the fad of the moment” that could cause “real carnage” in the industry.  Britt added the technology was capable of driving up subscriber fees and producing less content. “Destroying the revenue is not going to have the result people think it may have,” he said.

If disrupting ad sales revenue isn’t enough, the same Supreme Court decision that paved the way for zapping could help undermine retransmission revenue for the beleaguered local broadcast model.  Aereo, with its vast arrays of tiny loopholes may allow consumers to retransmit over-the-air signals to any connected device for a fee that does not benefit the copyright holders. Time and legal precedent will illuminate the potential impact on the “must carry” big stick.

Innovation creates pressures, often unintended. The network DVR, the cloud, IP, virtual MSOs, OVD, OTT . The primordial alphabet soup has never been richer with new life forms, new competition, new DNA… So, what innovative disruption will next rise up?

Tomorrow, my personal list of the most innovative products and developments I encountered on The Cable Show floor.

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Russell Howard has more than 25 years of experience in cable and broadcast TV, serving most recently as SVP Communications Worldwide for National Geographic Channels. As VP Marketing & Communications at Team Services, he developed PPV campaigns for WWE, Universal Studios, Paramount Studios and New Line Cinema. Previously, Howard managed news promotion, public relations, and community affairs at KDKA-TV2 in Pittsburgh. Howard got his start in cable creating on-air packaging, promotions and affiliate materials for Cable Video Store, the industry’s 1st satellite delivered addressable PPV network.

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