"Street Signs": The Big Picture

"Street Signs" is taking the pulse of the cable industry at The Cable Show '07 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. Program host Erin Burnett and correspondent Julia Boorstin will be reporting on the driving forces of the incredibly dynamic industry and the forces of convergence that continue to reshape it.

The cable industry is seeking new ways to adapt and expand its content -- whether it is for mobile phones or on-demand TV -- as well as exploit its extensive communications system by providing telecoms services for consumers and companies.

It's a rapidly changing landscape where companies are competing one-on-one in one space and forming partnerships and joint ventures in another.

Here'a look at some of the players we'll be interviewing at the NCTA.

Richard Parsons, Chairman & CEO, Time Warner

Parsons became CEO in May 2002 and chairman a year later in what can be described as the low point of the post AOL-Time Warner merger.

Interestingly, through both good and bad times for the parent company, its Turner Broadcasting unit of cable TV networks unit has performed pretty well, despite the increasingly competitive landscape. There has even been talk of Time Warner spinning off the TV group -- best known for the CNN, TBS and TNT brands.

Time Warner also has the nation's No. 2 cable service provider in Time Warner Cable. The company provided services -- cable TV, high speed Internet, digital phone -- to some 26 million homes as of the end of 2006. It went public in March 2007 after acquiring assets from bankrupt Adelphia Communications.

Parsons has won high marks as a fence builder and a cost cutter, who nursed both the company's fortunes and bruised executive egos back to health. At the same time, he has attracted his share of criticism from the likes of activist investor Carl Icahn and others for supposedly lacking a compelling strategic vision for the company and its floundering stock price.

Now, Parsons is talking acquisitions and bulking up the AOL unit, taking a page out of the old "bigger is better" straetgy.

When asked by CNBC's Erin Burnett on the existing relationship Time Warner has with Google, and how they will react if Yahoo and Microsoft merge, Parson says "it would probably - both from their perspective and ours - push us more in the direction of dealing in a more intensive way with Google than we do now."

David Zaslav, CEO, Discovery Communications

Named to the post in late 2006, David Zaslav is re-engineering the cable channel. One of his first moves was to decentralize the operation.

After years of declining viewership, the numbers perked up in 2006. The group includes the Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet and the Travel Channel. Discovery Channel's viewership, for instance, jumped 14%. Discovery is planning a green channel for 2008, as part of its PlanetGreen initiative.

Zaslav's plan includes strengthening core brands, reducing inefficiencies and defining a digital strategy across the $12 billion media conglomerate. Discovery's investors include Cox Communications, Advance/Newhouse and Discovery Holding Company, which is controlled by cable pioneer John Malone.

Prior to joining Discovery, Zaslav was president of NBC Universal's Cable and Domestic TV and New Media Distribution.

Brian Roberts, Chairman & CEO, Comcast

Roberts, succeeded his father at the company in 2002 and now runs the nation's largest cable company. His grand convergence play, however, was not to be. A buyout offer for Walt Disney in February 2004 went nowhere and Roberts had the "discipline," as he put it, to walk away. Comcast later cut a deal closer to home, carving up the Adelphia assets with Time Warner.

Under Roberts, Comcast has grown into a media giant with $22.3 billion in revenue, 24.2 million customers and 87,000 employees. Comcast’s content networks and investments include E! Entertainment Television, Style Network, The Golf Channel, four regional Comcast SportsNets and others. The Company also has interests in two professional sports teams, the Philadelphia Flyers NHL hockey team and the Philadelphia 76ers NBA basketball team, as well as two large multipurpose arenas in the city.

Ahead of the Vegas event, Comcast said it plans to launch a Web site that its customers can use for email and instant messages and forward voice mail, send instant messages and manage a smart address book.

John Lansing, Pres., Scripps Network

Lansing assumed the post in January 2005. A company veteran, he had previously worked in the company's TV station unit.

A unit of E.W. Scripps, the unit includes the company’s growing portfolio of popular lifestyle television networks. Scripps Networks brands include HGTV, Food Network and DIY. Programming can be seen in more than 170 countries.

Robert Clasen, CEO, Starz Entertainment & Media &
Mike Freis, CEO, Liberty Global LBTYA

Named to the post in late 2004, Clasen is an industry veteran who also worked for Comcast.

On what's called the "cable-satellite-telco channels side," the company offers 13 major premium movie channels, including the flagship Starz and Encore brands — which serve 15 million and 27 million subscribers respectively. The premium service will soon be adding original content to its offerings. Starz also operates on-demand services and a high-definition channel. The company launched its much publicized Vongo is IPTV subscription movie download service in 2006.

Clasen says the goal is to "aggregate audiences by distributing programming across multiple platforms.”

Liberty Global, formed in early 2005, is the result of the merger of UnitedGlobalCom (UGC), Europe’s largest cable operator, and Liberty Media International, a spin-off of John Malone’s Liberty Media empire. It has operations in 18 countries and 23.5 million homes, and is the largest cable operator outside the U.S.

Liberty is increasing digital cable services more aggressively throughout Europe to stave off IPTV deployments by its leading telco rivals.

Ahead of the Cable conference, Liberty Global executives outlined plans to launch or expand digital video services in the Netherlands, Ireland, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and other countries during 2007.

Liberty Global is focused on introducing advanced digital video services in its European and Japanese markets this year, including high-definition TV (HDTV), digital video recorders (DVRs), and video-on-demand (VOD).

Liberty Global, which introduced VOIP service in Europe two years ago, said it now offers IP phone service in 12 markets.

Bridget Baker, President, NBC Universal TV Networks Distribution

Appointed president of this arm of NBC UNiversal in December 2006, Baker oversees the distribution of the TV Networks portfolio -- Bravo, Chiller, CNBC, CNBC World, MSNBC, SCI-FI, ShopNBC, Telemundo, Telemundo Puerto Rico, mun2, Sleuth, Universal HD, USA Network, and NBC Weather Plus. (NBC Universal is a subsidiary of General Electric.)

Erin Burnett had a chance to speak with Baker at the event on a host of issues including, how to monetize mobile content with ads and the place "webisodes" have within the demographic of broadband programming. Who will watch and why? Also, the two discuss the winning recipe behind USA, the country's number one basic cable network. Could it be its Emmy award winning original content? (One hint: Think obsessive-compulsive-disorder-afflicted investigator.)