Alternate TV distrib’n not feted

NEW ORLEANS – Wall Street is becoming “more comfortable” with television stocks, but the outlook for once-promising alternate distribution methods for programming is less certain.

That was the view of a finance panel Wednesday, where four entertainment-industry analysts offered largely consistent views that huge gains by satellite TV, telcos and even cable in traditional broadcast TV are unlikely.

Depressed cable stocks “will see a bounceback, but not much,” said Schroder Wertheim analyst David Londoner, given “long-range problems.”

Jessica Reif of Merrill Lynch said satcasters’ early gains came from wealthy customers who are “not really indicative of the U.S. as a whole.”

Telcos have “talked a lot but done very little except lose close to $1 billion” with Tele-TV and Americast, Reif said.

David Doft of Furman Selz said interactive/broadcasting hybrids like MSNBC aren’t too promising either, except for delivering news: “People watch television because they don’t want an interactive experience; they’re couch potatoes.”

All four panelists predict DBS subscribers, now at 3 million, will double by 1998, still a modest proportion of total households, while cable subscriber growth will be moderate, with increases of 2% or less by then.

Earlier at the morning session, kidvid legend Fred Rogers was presented with NATPE’s 1997 chairman’s award by Beth Sullivan, exec producer of CBS’ “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.”

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