Operators, programmers find a middle ground: the paying customer

CHICAGO - Remarkably, a second-day Cable Show keynote panel of programmers and cable operators came to a conclusion: Despite their differences, they need to do what the customers want. And, if that means reining in spiraling programming costs, something should be done in that direction.

"We're in an economic climate where consumers know what they want to pay," said Ken Lowe, chairman-president-CEO of Scripps Networks Interactive. They don't want to pay too much, he added, so it's likely his company will "no longer look at the industry as continuing to tap into the consumer" with higher fees and will depend more on advertising to carry the day.

On the other end of that same scale, David Haslingden, president-COO of Fox Networks Group said he believes there is still room to get more money from customers and that good programming "can unleash a willingness to pay money."

"The elephant in the room is this product we're offering is getting better and better," he said and that a better product is the key to drawing and retaining customers.

A touchier subject--TV Everywhere, or at least the migration of television content off the TV screen and onto related devices--was embraced less heartily by the programmers but more heartily by the service providers.

Cable operators should offer "easy access to whatever content people can get legally," said Michael Willner, vice chairman-CEO of Insight Communications, advocating allocating capital resources to "result in a much more competitive product."

That, said Haslingden, is what Fox intends to do.

"If it goes onscreen, capital gets allocated to it," he concluded.

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