Federal Communications Commission Chairman Charles D. Ferris yesterday warned the cable television industry that it might not survive unless it begins to develop new services and facilities.
In a speech prepared for delivery to the annual convention of the National Cable Television Association in New Orleans, Ferris noted that pending FCC decisions and the current congressional rewrite of the Communications Act could have a "significant" impact on the future of the cable industry.
"But no FCC rules and no statutes are going to guarantee cable a share of the rapidly evolving communications industry," Ferris warned. "You will only earn that . . . by your own entrepreneurial initiative. I am not certain you realize this."
While the cable industry has viewed itself as a competitor of the broadcast industry as it sought a foothold in the communications marketplace, its primary impact has been to help broadcasters compete more effectively with each other, he said.
While the cable industry has brought the UHF stations into technical parity with VHF stations and has imported distant signals to compete with local ones, Ferris said these are services that can be performed by improved television sets or by translators linked to satellite dishes.
Cable stations have only just begun to actually compete with broadcasters by offering their own program services, he noted. "You have called yourself a medium of choice, but very often you have only provided on echo," he complained. "Even the new pay services with feature movies are an extended version of the networks' night at the movies - without commercials.
"So long as you offer only services that others may offer - over facilities which others can provide - I do not think that the public will demand your survival," he said. "If you do provide an unique service, in quality, diversity, and in state-of-the-art technology, you will have public backing."
As one example of what the cable industry can do, Ferris cited the possibility of a channel dedicated to children's programming without commercials to take advantage of the dissatisfaction of a growing number of parents with the programming and advertising offered children by broadcasters.
Ferris acknowledged that the FCC's regulation had impeded cable's growth in the past, but suggested there are no regulatory barriers no, only what might be called the industry's "regulatory fixation."
Ferris said he had noticed since coming to the FCC nearly seven months ago that the industry's members have an "ambivalent" view of regulation and competition when broadcasters were involved but preferred "the security of regulatory protectionism" when it came to telephone systems competing in providing cable services. Likewise, he said cable argued that the FCC had broad powers to preempt local regulation when it came to cable fees but argued that the FCC had no power to regulate access service and equal employment practices.
"You have long complained that our regulatory policies were too protective of the one industry and based on the special relationship of the industry to the regulators; you may well have been right," he told them. "But now that you are coming of age as an industry, you seem to want just such a special relationship.
"You will not find me sympathetic to that position," Ferris declared, saying to the public interest required the agency to replace regulation with competition wherever possible. "If you cannot compete with new technologies, you will be overcome by them," he said.