Cable programmers, providers are codependent; they just don't know it

CHICAGO - The real--or perceived, depending on your level of cynicism--chasm between cable programmers and the service providers who deliver that content to end users has created a level of self dependency that still needs to be sorted out, panelists at the opening session of The Cable Show in Chicago said.

"You're always going to have buyer-seller tension," said Chase Carey, deputy chairman, president and COO of News Corp. (Nasdaq: NWSA), whose tension with Cablevision Systems (NYSE: CVC) over retransmission consent led to a blackout of last year's Major League Baseball playoffs. That tension, he said, comes from "changing a traditional practice (where) you find more friction that normal."

Carey was somewhat dismissive that the friction between programmers and those who carry the programming is going to continue or worsen.

"The industry has had difficult negotiations around the value of content for 20 years, 30 years," he said.

Putting a dollar sign on the value of content is becoming more difficult as the traditional TV delivery model changes into the multi-screen vision floating around this year's show.

"We need to be flexible and we need to work together collaboratively," said Neil Smit, president of Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) Cable Communications.

Of course in Smit's case that's a little easier since Comcast is vested in both ends of the equation, thanks to its NBCUniversal acquisition.

"Steve Burke (former Comcast COO now running NBCU) and I can pick up the phone to each other every day," he said.

Other programmers and distributors don't have that same line of communication and that, the panelists agreed, is important.

"In terms of people wanting to get paid, there are different currencies," said Smit.

For instance, Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX) HBO, as a subscription service, is less concerned about counting viewers that any of Viacom's (NYSE: VIA) multiple advertising supported channels which led to a conflict between Viacom and Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) when TWC made that available to subscribers using iPads.

A new measurement system, not yet in place, would help there "so we can sell ads because that's the currency," said Philippe Dauman, Viacom's president-CEO.

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