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Cable Technology Feature Article

August 13, 2012

Cable's Evolution Shows its Relevance

By Steve Anderson, Contributing TMCnet Writer

The concept of cable cutting is one that's front and center with a growing number of users these days. Why pay huge prices for limited service, a handful of package deals that include huge lists of channels that will go unwatched when Internet-based television is a click away, and sometimes, even available for free with minimal commercial interruption? But cable isn't taking the idea of cable cutting lying down, and it's readily apparent in the evolution of cable as a whole from its inception to the modern day.

Some like to think of the cable television industry as a hidebound monolith that's too busy cashing subscriber checks to give much credence to what those subscribers actually want. But that's an unfair characterization; cable has come a long way indeed for an industry that's been around for decades.

Cable technically got its start just after World War II; in 1948. Television was a new industry, and FCC (News - Alert) regulations made it very difficult for new firms to get into the marketplace. Thus, some more creative individuals found a way to get around FCC regulations by, instead of using broadcast spectrum to send their rather short-range signals into people's homes, they would instead use a direct connection via the coaxial cable, which is still in use today in many applications. 

The arrival of satellite technology gave the growing cable industry a way to get access to still more programming, and send it out over a much wider radius than in previous versions. Several new content providers, like ESPN (News - Alert), Showtime, and C-SPAN, made their appearances, and an industry launched forth to become a superpower.

Fast forward to the modern day, and a host of new issues confront cable. With multiple screens, and an increasing desire for portability fueled by steadily increasing access to high-speed Internet services, cable is finding itself once again needing to adapt to changing sentiments, changing needs, and changing technologies.

One thing has become apparent, though: the cable industry seems to undergo major changes approximately every 25 years or so. The satellite industry kicked up in earnest about 25 years after the first appearance of cable, then 25 years after that, the Internet age got going. By that line of thought, there are about another dozen years or so to go before the next big thing in the industry comes along, and businesses are still being seen as trying to get a handle around the previous change. Naturally, there are some problems in there that limit innovation--hesitant content providers, overzealous government regulation, and the like--but the beginnings of the future may well be visible in the current era, and in ten years, it's entirely possible that the cable industry will be unrecognizable from its current state.

Innovation fuels the future, that much is clear--tomorrow's industries make tomorrow's jobs every bit as today's industries make today's--and trying to get a better handle on just where the future is actually going is a challenge by any reckoning.

Edited by Juliana Kenny

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