WideOpenWest executive shoots straight: ‘5G is something I’m very worried about’

Cable executives on an afternoon Pay TV Show panel yesterday addressed the threat of 5G wireless broadband in uncharacteristically head-on fashion. (FierceCable)

DENVERCable executives typically talk around the question when asked about the potential threat of 5G wireless to their broadband businesses. So credit Roger Seiken, WideOpenWest's senior VP of video programming, for coming right out and saying what we pretty much know everyone in the cable industry is thinking.

“5G is something I’m very worried about,” Seiken said on an afternoon panel yesterday at the Pay TV Show. “If consumers suddenly have meaningful broadband through a wireless network and all of these streaming services, that’s something we need to think about long term.”

Speaking alongside Seiken on the panel, which was focused on program bundling strategies, Steven Sklar, VP of video strategy for CenturyLink, said that the emergence of 5G wireless services is “going to put premium on creativity and packaging, and force us to up our game and put more emphasis on user experience,” much the way telecom companies are having to respond to OTT in video.

Meanwhile, addressing the primary topic of the panel, “The Outlook for Smarter Bundling in the ‘Skinny’ Era,” Seiken expressed pessimism regarding the prospect of programmers easing up on relentless price increases and bundling demands any time soon.

“We’ll do a deal, and they’ll say, ‘We’ll see you in five years.’ And I say, ‘I don’t know…’ Eventually, they’re going to force us out of the business.”

For his part, Sklar articulated the broad strokes of an emerging video strategy for CenturyLink, which—in the aftermath of its merger with Level 3 Communications—has scrapped plans to launch a virtual MVPD and is divesting from its Prism IPTV service.

CenturyLink seems content to let consumers use its broadband and bundle their own digital services on top of that. 

“We are a believer in SVOD,” Sklar said. “If we can’t create the perfect skinny bundle, let’s give the customer some choices and help them stitch it together.”

All of the panelists seemed to agree that a la carte distribution of programming will emerge as a powerful paradigm in the next five years. Amazon, represented on the panel by Kathy Payne, head of content acquisition management for the internet retail monolith, seems poised to lead the video business into that future. Earlier in the day, research firm The Diffusion Group reported that Amazon controls 55% of direct-to-consumer video purchasing in the U.S.

“At Amazon, we’ve found that a la carte really works,” said Payne, noting that Amazon’s a la carte-oriented Channels program now has “millions of subscribers.”

She added, “They come in, buy channels, then become Prime customers, as well. All boats rise… and what we get is more engaged and more satisfied customers.”