For the best part of three years I earned a poor living working in the cable TV industry. It was rubbish. It really was. First of all I worked in TV production for an appalling TV station called Wire TV. After I was sacked I got a job as international editor of a US based news magazine called Cable World, which was a quality publication for a mega industry in the US, but I was our man covering the sticks, frankly. At the time the streets of the UK were being dug up by gangs of men subcontracted by middle managers from American phone companies eager to know how they could sell cable AND phone services to the masses. This was before the Internet, by the way.
The trouble was, as still is, that there is a far superior way of getting more TV channels; it's called Sky TV. And in securing Premiership football and some half decent imports cable was completely dependent on Sky for supply of TV channels.
The corporate game of chess that I followed so keenly involved various combinations of cable operator merging, acquiring and borrowing in order to stem the huge debts they built up in the cause of killing trees, ripping up pavements and offering a mind bogglingly bad record of dealing with the public. After being a customer of United Artists Communications in Bristol (who gave me everything for free, forever), when I moved I then subscribed to Cable London (pants), then finally NTL (which managed to be even worse). I had a minor dispute over the notice I had to give them, which I was unable to win because they sent debt collectors after me which put a black mark on my credit file. I have pledged never to subscribe to cable ever again.
I am not alone, the shocking service culture and dreadful marketing makes you gasp. Even as I type this there is an invitation coming at me for an event to celebrate the coming together of NTL and Telewest and their deal with Virgin as "bigger than you think". Though that process has finally come to the inevitable conclusion that a large single brand with good customer service could compete with Sky and BT, the fact is they've botched that too. Cable subscribers have now lost some Sky channels due to a row over how much they pay their biggest competitor for supply of their core product.
Richard Branson is doing what he always does. He's muscled in on the cable industry for not much money. Used his brand as leverage and is now bellyaching over being bullied by the market leader because they won't roll over give him the privilege of doing business. Tom Bower, an author I'm enjoying reading on Conrad Black right now, has written about Branson before, he has also has a very telling piece here.
Cable is doomed in this country. It has been completely trumped by Sky, and now broadband. Sky has problems of its own - and we won't have that in the house either - but a threat from Beardie Cable is not one of them.