NCTC has come out with a fresh name and logo – rebranding from the National Cable Television Cooperative to the National Content & Technology Cooperative.
Fierce Video first reported a name change was in the works back in May, and follows similar moves from other cable industry organizations. In addition to dropping the “cable” moniker, NCTC also ditched the accompanying coaxial cable image.
The new name was unveiled Monday at The Independent Show in Florida. It marks a change for the organization, which counts more than 700 independent communication service providers as members. In its nearly 40-year history NCTC primarily focused on negotiating bulk-buy programming discounts for its members, but that emphasis is evolving.
Since its formation, much has changed in the cable industry, including an increasing consumer shift to over-the-top streaming services, and many traditional providers are now looking to broadband services as a key element of growth. Looking at major providers in satellite, cable and telco, a July report from MoffettNathanson showed that traditional pay TV distributors collectively lost 1.86 million video customers in the quarter, with the industry shrinking at a rate of about 9%.
In announcing the co-op’s brand change, NCTC CEO Lou Borrelli said in a statement that the new name and logo are just the start for how the group is reworking itself.
“Our design reflects our commitment to delivering savings, solutions and strategies in everything we do,” Borrelli stated. “Our name and look may be new, but our significant cost savings programs, services, networks and partners all remain the same and will only improve.”
In an interview with Fierce, Borrelli, who took the helm of NCTC last year, said the group’s members have a range of views when it comes to approaching video.
Some are taking what he called a passive approach to broadband first, meaning they’re not actively removing video from their business but allowing it to decline to the point where the aggregate cost of maintaining systems outweighs the upside for however many customers they have left.
Others, meanwhile, are more aggressively building out broadband and expanding their footprint, where they’re using video as an acquisition tool. “They’re getting video penetrations of 40-45%,” Borrelli said, adding that he was even surprised by the high percentage.
Video will remain an important part of the co-op and product set, he noted, but it’s changing too.
“What we are doing as leadership is determining … the menu of video options we should be making available to members so they can self-select based upon their own strategic needs.”
Much of that is moving toward its managed IPTV service with TiVo (and an earlier MobiTV agreement), he said, while a number of members are looking at OTT and also talking about free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) channels as an OTT-type service.
Linear TV floor not going to zero, conversations with Comcast ongoing
Borrelli expects there to be a floor for linear video but doesn’t believe it will go to zero.
“I think it will be low enough that people will start to question their sanity, but I do think you’ll have a mix of options,” he continued, including for NCTC members who decide to go broadband-only – but stressed it’s transitionary. In the meantime, NCTC is trying to get ahead of the game.
“This is evolutionary, not revolutionary, it’s going to take some time,” Borrelli said of the changing cable landscape.
On the video front, one major cable operator interested in NCTC members is Comcast. Comcast Cable CEO Dave Watson said during an investor conference in May that the company is extremely interested in licensing its streaming aggregation platform (built on its Xfinity Flex operating system as part of a joint venture with Charter) to other U.S. operators as it looks to deploy at a national-scale. In June Borrelli told NextTV that Comcast was very interested in its members’ footprint and in discussions to license Flex.
In talking with Fierce, Borrelli acknowledged conversations with Comcast are ongoing, including more than just Flex, but nothing new to announce.
To larger companies looking to the co-op's membership, NCTC offers more than just its distribution, according to Borrelli, in terms of knowing what smaller communities are asking for.
Consumer needs in smaller or rural areas aren’t different than in big cities, but how they make purchasing decisions is a little bit different, he said
“They would much rather deal with their local guy or gal, the people that they’ve grown up with. A lot of these companies are very much community focused and that’s the differentiator.” Borrelli has experience earlier in his carrier as an independent cable operator in second and third-tier markets, including founding partner of Marcus Cable Company.
Still, NCTC does have collective reach and networks to offer, and that’s something the group is putting more into focus. NCTC’s members have presence in 50 states and territories, reach one-third of all connected homes counting 34 million broadband connections (on par with Charter and Comcast, he noted), and 40 million digital connections overall.
Borrelli said in sitting with Tom Rutledge and Dave Watson (CEOs of Charter and Comcast, respectively), he mapped their footprints and the collective NCTC footprint, alongside the total footprint.
“We [NCTC] are the donut hole. If you look at where Comcast and Charter’s customers are, yes there’s some overlap but there is a big hole in the center of the country,” Borrelli said. “And if you or they or anybody else has a concept they think is acceptable or viable for the heartland or the upper Midwest, we’re your partner, and I think that’s resonated with them.”
Qwilt CDN supports live streaming of popular pro football games
The co-op has also had traction in helping ink technology deals for members, with multiple deals announced in the last week including Evolution Digital and OpenVault. Qwilt, meanwhile, reached an agreement in 2021 to power robust content delivery networks (CDN) open caching tech, announcing last week that over 100 members have signed up to deploy the upgrade in their networks.
According to Borrelli, the Qwilt deal was really to support a streaming player's upcoming airing of popular weekly live pro football games set to kick off this fall. The streaming sports rights were secured last year as part of an 11-year multi-billion deal. The back story, he said, is that between the streamer and the NFL “they realized rural America’s internet would probably melt from the potential traffic” and identified a couple hundred locations to put CDN technology deeper into the U.S. NCTC is handling the paperwork and execution for the 200 locations.
“I think it will be a win-win" because it’s not just about the one league and streamer, but Disney and a few other networks as well, he noted. And in Borrelli’s lifetime, whose career in cable began in 1978, he said “this is almost the first time in a long time where content providers are actually paying us, as opposed to the other way around for that kind of delivery.” **
Pivoting beyond video, leveraging collective network value
Video will remain part of the picture (Borrelli said “it’s still our biggest revenue stream and it’s very core to our co-op”) but NCTC is spending less time worrying about it and more time focused on leveraging the collective power of its members’ network. The co-op’s new tag line is “Stronger Together.”
That is happening through its Connectivity Exchange, enabling members to compete and partake as a one-stop-shop for larger-scale business and opportunities than would be possible individually – such as broadband projects with national brands or large-scale RFPs (request for proposal) for last-mile delivery.
In addition to video and broadband, NCTC members are also looking to wireless services and the organization announced a new MVNO agreement that expects members to be ready to launch customer bundled discount services by Q4.
The connectivity Exchange, IP transit and transport, MVNO and purchasing are NCTC’s four focus buckets for this year, according to Borrelli.
**Some specific references in this section that appeared in an earlier version of this article were removed due to contractual NDA.