This industry covers establishments primarily engaged in the dissemination of visual and textual television programs on a subscription or fee basis. Included in this industry are establishments that are primarily engaged in cable casting and that also produce taped program materials. Separate establishments primarily engaged in producing taped television or motion picture program materials are classified in SIC 7812: Motion Picture and Video Tape Production.
513210 (Cable Networks)
513220 (Cable and Other Program Distribution)
The cable television industry was developed in the United States in the late 1940s to serve small communities unable to receive conventional television signals due to difficult terrain or physical distance from television stations. Cable also provided improved television reception to remote areas. The original systems were centered around a collective antenna for regions with poor or nonexistent reception. Cable systems located their antennas in areas where reception was good, picked up broadcast signals, and then relayed them by cable to subscribers for a fee. In 1950 cable systems operated in only 70 communities and served 14,000 subscribers.
By 1995 there were approximately 11,800 cable systems with 62 million subscribers (65.3 percent of all television households) in the United States. The average cable system provided 30 or more channels, as well as other services such as custom programming and pay-perview options. The average monthly fee for a cable sub-scription was $23.00.
By late 2002, total subscriber counts amounted to approximately 73.5 million, a household penetration rate of nearly 69 percent. Through digital compression, cable operators gained the ability to offer more than 100 channels. Between 1995 and 1999, cable fees rose faster than the rate of inflation. Even though there are thousands of cable operators, the industry has been dominated by the top 25 companies, which in 2001 accounted for more than 98 percent of U.S. subscribers, up from about 90 percent in 1999. Following passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which removed several regulations regarding ownership, the industry experienced increased merger and acquisition activity that is likely to continue. This activity resulted in further consolidation within the cable industry.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, satellite television services made their presence felt in the pay television industry by providing an alternative to increasingly expensive cable service. Providers dramatically reduced set-up costs and eventually offered free equipment and installation to consumers who agreed to annual service contracts. Viewers received many more channels for a monthly fee that rivaled cable rates. The biggest drawback to satellite television was its inability to carry local broadcast channels, but this limitation was removed by federal legislation toward the end of 1999. Satellite services claimed only 4 percent of the market in 1996. The fastest growing segment of the satellite service industry was direct broadcast satellite (DBS), which grew from 2.3 million subscribers in 1995 to 8.2 million subscribers in 1998. By 2001 this total had mushroomed to 17.4 million, and subscriber ranks were expected to reach nearly 20 million in 2002.
Traditional underground cable lines are just one of several methods used to transmit video signals from the broadcaster to the home. Pay television companies must decide which transmission method or combination of methods is the most effective in serving their customers. Overall, there are four basic ways to broadcast a video signal:
Cable television operators rely primarily on four revenue streams: advertising, installation services, basic cable subscriptions, and premium channel subscriptions. In 2002, the industry earned $49.4 billion in subscriber revenues and $14.7 billion in advertising revenues. Cable operators were expected to enjoy a trend of increasing subscription and advertising revenues in the foreseeable future.
Cable Regulation. The domestic cable industry is highly regulated by the U.S. government. Regulations affect cable system ownership, rate structures, channel limits, types of programming, and permission to access programming. This involvement is due to the high fixed investment in installation, the fact that the industry lends itself to being a natural monopoly with limited competition, and the sensitive nature and importance to national security of communications technology.
Ownership in the cable television industry is fragmented because of the regulatory environment in which companies compete. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the government agency empowered to regulate cable TV companies, has given municipalities the authority to grant cable licensing contracts on a geographic basis. Municipalities generally bid out these contracts and then grant exclusive franchise rights to provide service in a given area in return for a commission of 3 to 5 percent of revenues.
In 1986 the FCC decided to allow cable companies to freely set monthly service rates and rate increases in any market that already provided at least three over-theair broadcast signals to nonsubscribers. Prior to 1986, cable companies were limited to a mandated 5 percent cap on annual rate increases. Re-regulation was proposed in 1992 because various groups claimed that the cable industry abused its privilege to set monthly rates by gouging consumers. Congress, under pressure from consumer groups, haggled with President George Bush, who was against reregulation. After a failed attempt by the FCC to control the situation by redefining some rules, Congress overrode the president's veto and passed the controversial Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992. This bill reversed cable companies' freedom to set rates. However, local governments were given the power to regulate rates for basic cable programming in their areas.
The act also contained programming regulations. Programming could no longer be denied to competitors and had to be offered at "fair terms." The bill required cable companies to pay royalties to over-the-air broadcasters. Networks have complained for years that cable companies were in essence charging subscribers for network-developed programming that was free to them and pocketing a subscriber fee. One other provision of this bill limited the size of multiple-system operators and the number of channels a system could devote to programming in which it had an interest.
New technologies have prompted cable companies to team with telecommunication companies in order to provide interactive services to subscribers. In August 1992 the FCC permitted Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI) and Cox Enterprises to buy Teleport Communications Group, a company that connects long distance carriers and provides large corporations with private fiber-optic communications networks. This ruling opened the door by allowing cable companies to enter the telecommunications business and vice versa.
Telephone companies were slow to react to this decision, primarily due to regulatory concerns. Not until February 1993, when Southwestern Bell Corp. announced that it agreed to purchase two cable TV systems in the Washington, D.C. area, did a telephone company move into traditional cable markets. This action led other telephone companies to search for cable acquisitions.
A regulation implemented in June 1992 allowed the television networks to buy local cable TV systems. However, a TV network's cable holdings could not exceed 10 percent of the nation's homes that are passed by cable wire or 50 percent of the households in a single market. In addition, a 1984 ruling stated that a company cannot own a TV station and a cable system in the same market. The intended effect of these rulings was to speed up the unraveling of traditional network and affiliate relationships. The resulting alliances between cable and over-the-air industries would impact the competitive environment among entertainment providers.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 also did much to deregulate cable television, with the hope of further stimulating competition in the television industry. The act served to revise 62 years of telecommunications law and eliminated some of features of the 1992 Cable Act that were seen as punitive by the industry. Most notably, fees for upper service tiers would be deregulated on March 31, 1999, in large cable systems, while such services were deregulated immediately in smaller franchises. The bill also eliminated the 1984 restriction that prevented individual companies from offering cable and phone services to the same market.
Government regulations have a significant impact on the ways in which cable companies compete. In the mature cable TV market, revenue growth comes primarily from rate increases. Government regulations impact existing companies by limiting revenue growth from this source. In the long run, the industry is expected to benefit from being pushed to develop other revenue resources, such as cable modems and telecommunication services. The regulatory environment is constantly changing—and there are gains that will accrue to the companies best able to influence and adjust to new regulatory initiatives.
Investment in Fiber Optics and Digital Compression. Investment in fiber-optic technology and digital compression allowed cable providers to expand channel capacity, offer interactive services, and carry voice, data, and video signals simultaneously on a single line. Each of these areas represents a significant opportunity to increase revenue. Both technologies, however, required an enormous investment for cable companies. Installation of fiber-optic cable and the introduction of digital boxes in cable homes was a gradual process.
Fiber optic cabling improves signal quality and range. Companies that invested in fiber optics to improve transmission quality gained an edge in the bidding process used to award franchise rights for geographic areas. The greater the number of franchise rights, the greater the number of subscribers—and the greater the amount of total revenue accruing to a company. During the 1990s, four of the largest players in the industry (TCI, Time Warner, Continental Cablevision Inc., and Cablevision Systems Corp.) invested heavily in this strategy. TCI invested $2 billion in the mid-1990s, a clear indication that the industry viewed investment in fiber optics as a critical component in ensuring long-term financial success.
Expanded channel capacity allows cable providers to increase revenue by offering additional programming and pay-per-view channels. The creation of new cable networks was straining the existing cable carriage space in 1997, as CBS, A&E (Arts and Entertainment), Rainbow Programming, and BET (Black Entertainment Television) all prepared to start major cable networks. The need to expand channel capacity was underscored by the fact that many new networks were finding their first home on satellite television, where a greater number of channels are offered.
Expanded channel capacity also allows cable companies to offer advertisers more options. Traditionally, broadcast networks have demanded the highest advertising dollars and yet have devoted less on-air time to commercials than cable networks. During the mid-1990s, however, cable advertising revenues increased, and the cable networks began increasing the minutes per hour devoted to advertising. Between 1990 and 2002, advertisers increased their spending on cable television from $1.1 billion to $14.7 billion.
Studies revealed that the total time Americans spent viewing television was rising, while the audience share of the three major networks was on the decline. Viewers began spending a larger proportion of their viewing time watching cable channels as opposed to network programming. This increased viewership positioned cable companies to gain a large percentage of increasing advertising dollars.
Ability to Influence and Respond to Regulation. Because regulations change so frequently, the ability to influence and leverage new regulations becomes a crucial success factor. If a company can dictate how a regulation is written or interpreted in order to exploit an internal core competency, then it will be best positioned to profit from the change. Conversely, cable companies can be negatively impacted by regulations that restrict their ability to expand service areas, affect rate structures, and introduce new products.
During the late 1990s, cable operators and telephone companies entering the television business were not only adjusting to the new FCC guidelines set by the Telecommunications Act of 1996; they also faced the demands of local governments that were trying to maintain local control of rates and public rights-of-way. An April 1996 ruling eliminated rate regulation in areas where a cable company had non-DBS competition. Local governments complained that better proof of the new competition's effectiveness was needed in each case before rate deregulation was allowed. Squabbles of use of public rights-ofway also cropped up, as in the case where the city of Troy, Michigan, required TCI to obtain a telecommunications franchise when it wanted to create a new system. Such arguments prompted cable and telephone companies to join in asking the FCC to rein in local regulators.
Programming Capabilities. A MediaWeek poll revealed that 65 percent of cable TV subscribers would cancel their subscriptions if broadcast signals were dropped. The poll suggested that network-affiliated TV stations have considerable leverage in their retransmission consent fee negotiations with cable providers. But, ironically, during the 1990s the networks were waiving retransmission consent fees in exchange for getting cable operators to air network-owned cable programs. Offering more options to the customer results in increased advertising income and subscription revenue. This increased cash flow assists in the development of new and improved services, further driving the company's revenue growth.
Economies of Scale. Size is necessary to achieve economies of scale and to provide cash flow for investments into research and development, development of new programming and markets, and acquisitions. Large companies can gain economies of scale in purchasing equipment, satellite time, and programming. In addition, by being large enough to be able to purchase its own satellite, a cable company gains significant control over costs and programming. Through ownership of large libraries of information (music, video, etc.), the cable company not only controls costs, but also drives other competitors through access to that programming. Finally, programming consists mainly of large fixed costs; with a large cable company, this fixed cost is spread over a larger base, resulting in increased profits. This is particularly important for development of fiber optics.
Satellite and Telephone Company Competition. Customer dissatisfaction and rising cable costs have served to feed the growing satellite television industry with new viewers. At the beginning of 1999, direct broadcast satellite (DBS) had about 10.5 million subscribers compared to cable's 67 million, but it was growing by 26 percent a year in spite of not being able to provide local broadcast channels. However, at the end of 1999 that roadblock was removed when the U.S. Congress passed legislation that would allow DBS to offer local channels, thus giving satellite subscribers access to broadcast network programming.
Satellite television also underwent major changes among its key players in the late 1990s. Primestar, the second largest DBS provider with 2.3 million subscribers, was sold in January 1999 by its cable company owners to DirecTV, the industry leader. However, the sale did not guarantee DirecTV would pick up all of Primestar subscribers, thus leaving the door open to EchoStar, which moved up from third to second in the industry and was regarded as the fastest growing DBS company. EchoStar had recently picked up the assets from Rupert Murdoch's failed satellite venture. DirecTV was owned by Hughes Electronics, which in turn was owned by General Motors. In December 1998 DirecTV acquired United States Satellite Broadcasting, which provided top-of-the-line premium services that customers could order on top of the 185 channels offered by DirecTV. By 1999 neither DirecTV nor EchoStar were profitable, and EchoStar was carrying nearly $2 billion in debt.
Phone companies have been investing in and upgrading phone lines to fiber optics for some time—with the intention of transmitting video signals. Companies such as Tele-Communications, Inc., U.S. West, Bell South, Time Warner, Microsoft, IBM, Sony Corp., Intel, and Silicon Graphics tried to position themselves as major providers of service and support in this emerging playing field. During the 1990s, even utilities were laying fiber-optic cable when they installed new lines in order to position themselves as water, gas, electric, voice, data, and video providers.
By 1996, however, it was clear that the movement into television programming and delivery services had slowed. One telephone group, made up of Bell Atlantic Corp., NYNEX Corp., and Pacific Telesis Group, made news when it decided to sell Tele-TV, a television programming business. The companies had committed to pooling $300 million dollars in the joint venture. At the time, opportunities in long distance telephone service and Internet access appeared to have greater potential rewards. One area in which potential for telephone company participation looked more promising was in markets with less than 50,000 people. These markets were deregulated in 1996 to allow cable and telephone companies to enter each other's service area.
Industry Consolidation. The entry of AT&T into the cable industry, as well as major mergers and acquisitions following passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, resulted in more subscribers for the top cable operators. Size and clout were becoming more significant factors, with new technologies such as wireless, fiber optics, and digital compression requiring large investments. By 1999 the top 10 cable operators accounted for 71 percent of all U.S. cable subscribers, compared to 45 percent in 1994. In mid-1999 the top five cable operators (AT&T, Time Warner, Comcast, Charter, and Cox) controlled nearly 68 percent of all U.S. cable subscribers.
The cable television industry has proven to be very resilient. The industry has successfully responded to recession, regulation and deregulation, and the entry of meaningful video service competitors such as telephone companies, direct broadcast satellite systems (DBS), and computer firms. The future appears to hold more of the same, although competition is increasing from DBS providers. The introduction of new technologies and system upgrades will continue to make it possible for cable firms to expand digital services and gain new subscribers. The cable companies that are leading the way in these developments are expected to reap the lion's share of success.
Despite weak economic conditions that had a negative impact on network television and radio broadcasting companies, as well as the print media sector, the cable industry fared relatively well during the early 2000s. Figures from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) reveal that subscriber service revenues increased from $40.9 billion in 2000 to $43.5 billion in 2001 and $49.4 billion in 2002. Although advertising revenues—which rose from $11.9 billion in 1999 to $14.3 billion in 2000—did decline slightly to $14.2 billion in 2001, they reached a record $14.7 billion in 2002.
Digital cable services, including emerging video-on-demand offerings and high-speed Internet services, continued to represent a prime growth area for cable providers, as the market for basic services became relatively saturated. Following significant infrastructure developments during the 1990s, digital cable services began taking off in 2000, when some 9.7 million subscribers took advantage of the service, according to the NCTA. By the end of 2002, this number had mushroomed to 19.2 million subscribers. This was good news, because many industry players were saddled with bad debt from the capital investments made in the 1990s. With capital investment on the decline in the early 2000s, analysts anticipated increased profits.
Some cable operators were benefiting from telephone services, which they conveniently bundled with other services at competitive prices. NCTA estimates show that the number of residential customers taking advantage of cable telephony rose from 180,000 in early 2000 to 2.5 million by the end of 2002.
Despite the fact that cable operators were positioned to benefit from the aforementioned service offerings, DBS providers were a significant source of competition in the early 2000s. The Television Bureau of Advertising (TBA) reported that, according to Nielsen Media Research, penetration of so-called "alternate delivery systems" (ADS), which include DBS, were increasing while wired cable levels were declining, reaching a six-year low in early 2003. The TBA further explained that "national ADS penetration reached 16.7 percent in February 2003, up from 14.7 percent in February 2002. Direct broadcast satellite (DBS) delivery, the largest component of ADS, is now estimated at 15.6 percent, up from 13.2 percent in February 2002. Over the same period, wired cable penetration fell from 70.3 percent to 68.6 percent—the last time wired cable was that low was in August 1996."
The names of the industry leaders changed dramatically in the late 1990s, and industry rankings changed frequently as competitors sought to add more subscribers through mergers and acquisitions. By late 2002, the top 10 cable companies were Comcast Corp., with 21.6 million subscribers; Time Warner Cable (10.9 million); Charter Communications (6.7 million); Cox Communications (6.3 million); Adelphia Communications (5.8 million); Cablevision Systems Corp. (three million); Advance/Newhouse Communications (2.1 million); Mediacom Communications Corp. (1.6 million); Insight Communications (1.3 million); and CableOne (721,400).
Comcast Corporation. With roughly twice as many subscribers as its nearest competitor, Comcast Cable was the undisputed industry leader in 2002. Comcast's strong position within the industry is attributable to its acquisition of AT&T Broadband. According to the company, it is the leader in eight of the nation's top 10 markets, and some 70 percent of its subscribers live within the top 20 markets. Other acquisitions also have been key to Comcast's growth. For example, in November 1999 the company acquired Philadelphia-based cable operator Lenfest Communications for $5.3 billion. The acquisition increased Comcast's subscriber base by 20 percent to 7.2 million subscribers.
Time Warner Cable. AOL Time Warner is the world's largest media and entertainment company. Time Warner Cable (TWC) is one of the many media/entertainment subsidiaries that deal with businesses ranging from Time, Inc. (publishing) to Warner Music Group to HBO (programming). In 2002 TWC was the second largest cable operator in the United States, with almost 13 million subscribers. TWC has aggressively sought multiple cable systems within the same geographic locations. Known as "clustering." this process achieves superb operating efficiencies and economies of scale.
Known as the industry leader in fiber optic cable installation and interactivity, TWC delivered the world's first interactive cable TV service to New York in 1991. The 150-channel system, called Quantum, provided locally targeted programming as well as 57 pay-per-view channels. As the industry leader in the percentage of subscribers in fiber-optic addressable systems (81 percent), Time Warner is well poised to progressively bring its customers into the mainstream of advancing cable technologies. In 1999 the company began an aggressive national roll out of the first phase of its new digital cable service, and by 2003 it claimed 2.5 million digital video customers. At that time, TWC offered high-speed Internet connections and was preparing to launch an Internetbased local phone service.
Charter Communications. Charter Communications is a relative newcomer to the cable industry. Founded in 1993 in St. Louis by Harold Wood, Barry Babcock, and Jerry Kent—all former executives of Cencom Cable Associates—Charter Communications was the tenth-ranked cable operator in 1998 when it was acquired by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen for $4.5 billion. Earlier in the year Allen had acquired Marcus Cable for $2.8 billion. Marcus and Charter each had about 1.2 million subscribers at the time, giving Allen control of 2.4 million subscribers and making his company the seventh-largest MSO. Additional acquisitions allowed Charter to become the fourth-largest cable operator in 1999, and the third largest by 2002. At this time, it served customers in 40 states and offered broadband services like other industry leaders.
Cox Communications. In 1999 Gannett Co. exited the cable industry by selling its cable subsidiary, Cable-vision, for $2.7 billion to Cox Communications. Cable-vision served about 522,000 subscribers in Kansas, Oklahoma, and North Carolina. Following a string of acquisitions for Cox, the addition of Cablevision's subscribers gave Cox a base of six million subscribers, putting it at the number five industry position. By 2002 Cox had grown to be the fourth-largest industry player and was engaged in high-speed Internet services. In addition, the company was making capital investments that would enable it to provide telephone services.
Direct Broadcast Satellite Companies. The two leading DBS companies in the early 2000s were DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corporation. After acquiring Primestar, DirecTV had 7.8 million customers at the end of 1999. By 2003, this number had increased to 10.5 million. DirecTV was a unit of Hughes Electronics Corporation, which provided digital television entertainment and satellite and wireless systems and services. Hughes Electronics in turn was a unit of General Motors Corporation.
Headquartered in Littleton, Colorado, EchoStar Communications Corp. was founded in 1980 and filed for a DBS license in 1987. It established EchoStar Satellite Corporation to build, launch, and operate DBS satellites, and in 1992 was given a DBS orbital slot. In 1995 the company established the DISH (Digital Sky Highway) Network and launched its first DBS satellite. EchoStar achieved rapid growth during the early 2000s, expanding its customer base from 3 million in 1999 to more than 8 million by early 2003.
The cable industry is highly regulated, not only in the United States but also overseas. As a result, high entry barriers exist, causing companies to compete on a national basis. U.S. companies serve U.S. subscribers, European companies serve European subscribers, and so on. Because the U.S. market is saturated, American companies are looking to expand overseas in an effort to sustain growth. Asia, Latin America, and Europe have been identified as areas with high potential. The strategies companies are pursuing to break into overseas markets include joint ventures and alliances.
The major obstacles companies must overcome to become global are government regulation and lack of infrastructure. In Asia, for example, most governments still maintain tight control over the industry, which limits a foreign national company's ability to compete. Often, they restrict the screen time allotted to foreign programs and limit transponder hours. Cultural and industrial issues influence government regulation. Japan and Malaysia worry that foreign programming could upset the country's social harmony, while local monopolies exert their influence to prevent competition.
However, market demands are forcing Asian governments to either loosen the grip of state broadcasting monopolies or set up new channels to meet the demands of viewers for higher quality programs. Hong Kong is leading the change in Asia, with Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan following.
Regulations in Europe are easing slightly. The presence of the European Union has allowed for the development of some unified standards. However, European countries are reluctant to allow U.S. companies to expand into their markets due to cultural differences.
Lack of capacity is also a major factor limiting U.S. companies' entrance into foreign markets. There is a need to develop a cable infrastructure in growth regions. For example, there are simply not enough satellite transponders servicing overseas locations. In the United States, there is one transponder for every 300,000 people. In Europe, the ratio is one per 1 million people, while in Asia it is one per six million people. Using the existing system can be costly to a broadcaster. The broadcaster can expect to spend $1 million to $1.5 million American dollars per year to rent a transponder. In addition, there are usually local government license fees, plus fees to landlords for the use of high-rise apartments.
In addition, Latin America suffers not only from a severely lacking cable infrastructure, but also a lack of financial resources. This has led regional cable companies to rely on MMDS as the transmitting method. MMDS, although still regarded as a start-up technology, has proven to be a low-cost, reliable method of delivering pay television, relative to cable and satellite broadcasting.
The cable industry will never be more than a multidomestic industry as long as regulation denies ownership of all or a majority share of a local cable company by a foreign organization. The opportunities for growth in the emerging markets will be enjoyed by local companies, but the opportunities for cross-border operations still exist. A lack of technology and programming expertise provides opportunities for U.S. companies to partner with the regional operators to gain footholds in overseas markets, preempting European and Asian providers. However, as these new markets grow, they will develop the programming to cater to local preferences and culture. To stay competitive, U.S. companies will have to adapt and develop programs for these new markets, instead of just offering dubbed-over U.S. programming.
Cable television companies have implemented system upgrades using digital compression and fiber-optic cable. They also are meeting consumer demands for fast access to the Internet by providing high-speed cable modems.
Although there have been a number of advances in cable technology, the most promising is digital compression. Compression technologies enable broadcasters to squeeze several channels of video programming onto a single existing channel in much the same way as compression software conserves storage space on a computer. Compression converts the analog signals, currently used in broadcasting, to digital signals. This allows 10 channels to be transmitted along the same bandwidth of coaxial cable that would normally be capable of handling a single uncompressed signal. Compression would allow cable companies to offer more than 500 channels.
Even with the advent of compression technology, coaxial cable does have its limitations. Coaxial cable uses radio waves to transmit video images. Its drawbacks include a limitation on the number of signals that can be transmitted simultaneously and the distance that such signals can travel before they begin to degrade. Its advantage is that it is already installed in millions of homes across the country. Fiber-optic cable, on the other hand, uses light to transmit video images. It is superior to coaxial cable in terms of bandwidth or signal capacity, transmission speed, signal distance, and clarity. However, fiber-optic cable has a daunting limitation—it is prohibitively expensive.
Fiber-optics technology has allowed companies to develop "video-on-demand," an interactive service that allows customers to order the transmission of movies and special events and view these programs at their leisure. These systems are expected to be able to handle high-definition television and provide links to computers, facsimile machines, and personal communications networks.
The development of cable modems has allowed cable companies to enter the Internet access business. At a time when established providers have struggled to deal with quickly expanding numbers of Internet users, cable operators hope to use the superior speed of cable modems to lure away their customers. Cable modems take advantage of the industry's use of coaxial cable, which can provide transmission speeds up to 400 times faster than traditional phone lines.
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