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Cable Panel Bullish On Technology

Chuck Dolan, chairman and CEO of Cablevision Systems, told an audience of cable and broadcasting execs April 23 that technological advances over the next few years will make “cable channels as available as printing presses are today.”

Speaking at a panel session on cable sponsored by the Intl. Radio & Television Society, Dolan said pay-per-view would dominate most of the new channels created by compressing five or more signals into the band width now used by just one signal.

“Basic-cable networks are running out of steam,” he said, citing the unwillingness of cable operators to take on new programming services that would cost the MSOs additional monthly sub fees. He added that these new channels would drive up the retail price of cable at a time when many members of Congress are complaining about alleged consumer gouging by the cable operators.

According to Dolan, technology could get cable out of this dilemma by allowing cable operators to scramble every signal so that the subscriber would pay only for the channels he’s interested in.

Dolan also said subscriber access to 100 or more channels would turn each home into a videostore, an analogy that’s cropping up more often these days.

Dolan is particularly bullish on big p-p-v events like championship fights, saying that they “give new stature to the cable industry.”

Another panel member, Don Mitzner, prexy of Group W Satellite Communications, echoed Dolan’s enthusiasm, predicting that the total gross from all p-p-v events would balloon from $135 million last year to about $250 million in 1991. (One of Mitzner’s divisions is Request TV, the biggest p-p-v net.)

A third panelist, Tom Freston, chairman and CEO of MTV Networks, said existing basic-cable networks would continue to grow stronger through co-productions with the Big Three networks domestically and through coventures with foreign broadcasters.

Another growth area is sports on cable, fueled by “the mounting cost of salaries” of the top players, said Scott Sassa, president of the Turner Entertainment Networks.

On the subject of reregulation of cable subscriber fees, the fifth panelist, Tom Burchill, prez and CEO of Lifetime, said most cable operators have protected themselves by creating a separate tier for the most popular basic-cable networks, which would – presumably – escape any new regulatory moves.

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