Last updated: June 13, 2011 - 8:10am
As US television industry executives gather in Chicago this week for the Cable Show, their largest annual conference, a good deal of mutual congratulations will be going around. By most measures, it is a very good time to be in TV.
Consternation over “cord cutting” proved unfounded, as users did not abandon cable and satellite subscriptions en masse during the recession. Total subscriber numbers are instead slightly up. The biggest shows on broadcast networks such as CBS and cable networks such as USA are both drawing strong ratings, enticing advertisers to pay near-record prices. Media buyers have just committed more than $10 billion to advertise this autumn, a strong showing for the annual “upfront” buying season. “It’s a good time to be selling premium original TV content,” said Nomura analyst Michael Nathanson last week, after meeting many of the largest content companies. But US television is in the midst of profound transition. While total subscriber numbers are not falling, growth has slowed from 1.6 per cent a year ago to just 0.3 per cent, Bernstein Research analyst Craig Moffett said last month. Pay-TV’s gains are also well short of population growth, and possibly even weaker than “anaemic” new household formation, he said. At the same time, new online entertainment offerings from Netflix, Hulu and Apple are offering customers low-cost alternatives for consuming shows and films when they want, on the devices they want. Cable operators like Cablevision and Time Warner Cable are pushing premium broadband Internet connections and phone services. Comcast has taken a further aggressive step to diversify, by buying NBC Universal. Now, however, the sudden popularity of other tablet computers has cable operators scrambling to make more content available on mobile devices.
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