NCTA’s Michael Powell Says Cable Industry’s Reputation Contributed to Public Policy Defeats

NCTA Michael Powell
Larry Busacca/Getty Images

CHICAGO — Michael Powell, the CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Assn., said that the cable industry is “highly conscious” that defeats in some recent major public policy fights are in part due to its reputation with customers.

“I am a firm believer that words and message do not work if you are not liked,” Powell said at the Internet and Television Expo on Tuesday. “And when I was in the Army certain people said, ‘Well George S. Patton said, “You don’t have to be liked to lead.”‘ That is completely foolish. You have to be well-regarded by your customer base. You have to have a trusted relationship with them. And if that is frayed, you are just ripe for every next public policy fight to be turned against you just based upon reputational critique.”

In February, the FCC imposed net neutrality rules by reclassifying the Internet like a utility, a move that NCTA and other industry groups are challenging in court. Late last month, the FCC and the Department of Justice made clear that they would move to block Comcast’s planned merger with Time Warner Cable. The companies scuttled the deal.

In lobbying for their side, merger opponents hammered the cable industry’s reputation among consumers.

Powell, in a Q&A with Re/code’s Kara Swisher, nevertheless said that the “good news is this industry is highly conscious of that problem. They are very self-aware, they are not delusional about it, and I think there are a number of very important committed efforts under way to change that perception over time, improve the quality of the product and improve the experience.”

In fact, the name of the show is INTX, a rebrand from the Cable Show. Powell told Swisher that he even hates the name “cable industry”: “I do think it has a proud history, but it needs to be retired in some way. Your past can be part of your glory, but it also can be a weight around your ankle when you are looking at a tumultuous future with new challenges. And I think it also doesn’t fairly capture what they do.”

Powell told Swisher that he thinks the cable industry has responded to changes in the market — like the rise of over-the-top video services — but “I think it needs to be accelerated with urgency.”

He pointed to teenagers’ habits of constant connectivity to social media and multiple devices, often consuming content generated not by major media companies but by friends. “What is competing with traditional television is real life,” he said.

He also addressed concerns that Periscope is opening up a new avenue for piracy of movies and sporting events.

“The way I think about disruptions is they come with an enormous amount of good and an element of bad,” he said, adding that he also worries about what it means for privacy. “I think society is going to be working through the meaning of that for a long time.”

Asked what he sees as a dazzling possibility for TV in the not too distant future, Powell said, “I think it is going to be holographic, a day when ‘Game of Thrones’ plays out in your living room.”