Oklahomans old enough to remember the arrival of cable television in the state probably recall the clunky nature of the system. The centerpiece, a small box attached to the television with one lever to move horizontally to numbered channels, came with a warning: Don’t move the lever too fast to change channels. Whether this was really something to worry about or just parents’ means to limit the “click, click” of channel-changing children, one might never know.
But other changes in the cable industry? It would be hard to find an adult in Oklahoma – even one who still favors rabbit ears – who isn’t well aware of those. And what is the prognosis for changes to how households receive entertainment programming in the future?
“It used to be that you’d order a piece of equipment, but by the time you get it and go to install it, there was a better product already,” says Percy Kirk, senior vice president and general manager for Cox Communications in Oklahoma. “Today, (change) is even faster. Much, much faster.”
While many changes are being embraced by the cable industry, such as High Definition programming and digital video recording, to name just two, other changes are originating from brand new competition. With service such as Netflix and Hulu, with Apple’s early first steps into entertainment program delivery and numerous other advances, it’s little wonder that some feel the era of cable television is coming to an end.
But skeptics might not want to rush to plan a cable funeral. If Cox Communications – the third largest cable company in the US serving six million homes and businesses – is an example, then smarter cable providers are well prepared to adapt to changes in the market.
“The evolution now includes the convergence of our products and services.”
“We’re not only adapting to this change in the marketplace, we’re embracing change head-on,” says Cox vice president of Government and Public Affairs Kristin Peck. “This is a very capital-intensive business and we are making the necessary investments in our network platform – more than a billion dollars over the last several years in Oklahoma alone – to ensure delivery of the products and services consumers are asking for.”
It is Cox’s vaunted network platform that has enabled the company to adapt to changes in the marketplace and to expand its scope of services exponentially in recent years, while competitors elsewhere fell behind, Kirk says.
“When we first got started in Oklahoma, we ended up building a very robust platform,” Kirk says.
That communications infrastructure enabled Cox to embrace and blaze a trail in the industry and become an early embracer of major developments such as digital cable and high definition programming. Today, Cox offers an array of advanced digital video, high-speed Internet and telephony services over its own nationwide IP network, as well as integrated wireless services. Commercial voice, video and data services are offered via Cox Business.
“We’ve evolved from merely a video service 30 years ago, to a robust platform of telecommunications services,” Peck says. “The evolution now includes the convergence of our products and services. Cox TV Connect, allowing you to view TV shows through your iPad, is a good example of this.”
That integration of technology is key to the enthusiasm with which Cox considers further advancement.
“If you’re a programmer, say HBO, you want to maximize the exposure of your content,” Kirk says. That content has historically been delivered through platforms like cable and satellite television. Today, through services like Hulu, a programmer can reach the market more directly.
“In my view I think we’ll find that we provide value in different things that will benefit many consumers,” Kirk says. “Other consumers will choose to get content directly and they won’t care that the material is dated or limited.”
Kirk feels the not-too-distant household will look a little different than those today.
“I think we may end up with a device in the home, perhaps provided by someone like us, that has multiple inputs,” he says.
The device would allow access to television, video, music, telephone and conceivably numerous types of potential smart house apps, etc. Just as Yahoo and Google provide a framework to access and structure the infinite nature of the internet, service providers such as Cox will conceivably frame the massive volume of material for easy access and interaction with tomorrow’s consumers.
“The benefit is also that the consumer would be able to do some very different things,” Kirk says. “Say you’re watching a Thunder game and they’re playing the Lakers. You want to know how they have traditionally done versus the Lakers, so you can pull up the data. Or if you want to know how many points Kevin Durant scored against LA the last time they played. Part of the beauty of our network is that it is very robust and has a very strong two-way connection.
“Consumers will have the ability to get what the want, but there has got to be a way to make it easier for them to do that.”
Cox also addresses changes to the industry proactively. A company strategy group and technology group provide a lot of forward looking at Cox, and the company has historically anticipated customer demand.
“We work with technology companies, entertainment companies and talk with Silicon Valley people so that we can figure out where things are headed and what’s important to consumers,” Kirk says.
Kirk is among Cox executives excited about the future of the industry.
“When you look at the future, because of the nature of our platform, we are able to do so much, the reality is that I don’t know of anyone better positioned to deliver great product to our customers,” he says. “No one is more excited than me. We have come a long way from the 35 channels we had when we started in Oklahoma.”