From their inception in the 1950’s, cable companies have been fearlessly diving into the latest technology and risking big on the future of information and entertainment. When examined closely, it’s apparent that cable companies have, for the last 60 years, behaved a lot like today’s top Internet companies – always on the lookout for the next big thing to optimize the user experience. And like successful Internet companies, cable knows that the trick is to be agile enough to spot trends, shift course, and stay on top of razor-edge technology as it is redesigned.
A classic example is in 1974 when Coaxial Communications offered the very first Pay Per View experience to customers in Columbus, Ohio. The service was called Telecinema and provided movies in the home for $2.50 each. Rather than resisting investments and risk, cable companies embraced a new business model (and a whole new way to argue about what to watch on TV), betting that the living room cinema experience was the wave of the future. They were right, and today pay-per-view services contribute $2.7 billion to cable revenue.
In the 1990s, the Internet was transitioning from a nascent communications tech delivering university documents to a must-have service required for starting a business, getting an education, and random daily activities like finding yoga classes for half price. Rather than attempting to slow the Internet from blossoming, cable did more than any other industry to bring America into the broadband era. Cable started a massive nationwide rebuild of its network, investing $200 billion in facilities and equipment that enabled the always-on platform we have today. This progress has sparked a media and cultural evolution that has forever changed communications and entertainment.
Perhaps the greatest shift to home entertainment since color TV was revealed at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1999, when the world was first introduced to digital video recorders (DVRs). Companies like ReplayTV and TiVo were the first to enter the game, providing consumers with a way to time shift programming. This could have disrupted the traditional cable model, but operators embraced DVR technology and today, along with on-demand offerings, cable consumers have instantaneous, flexible access to content in a way that was practically unimaginable a decade ago.
And cable is not done innovating. The writing is on the walls and in short time, we’ll be watching most of our video over IP and on multiple Internet-connected devices. Cable is embracing new technology and working towards a comprehensive TV-everywhere experience. From cable operator services that offer live and on-demand viewing on multiple platforms to the popular channel-based apps like Watch ESPN and HBO Go, cable is delivering consumers flexible TV viewing on almost any IP connected device.
Whether it’s a new technology or an industry trend, cable companies are not threatened by innovation; they’re leading the charge. It’s an entrepreneurial spirit that began in the 1950’s and one that continues strong today. What will come next? If we can imagine it, technology innovators like cable will deliver it.