More high-def in December, says Insight CEO

Changes are coming to Lexington cable television, including one that will arrive like a holiday present, Michael Willner told the Lexington Rotary Club on Thursday.

Willner, the chief executive officer of Insight Communications, which operates the Lexington cable system, said more high-definition programming will be available beginning in December.

"It is going to be a major improvement in the number of channels that will be offered in high definition," he said. Insight will release more details later.

But cable subscribers shouldn't expect to see so-called a la carte menus that would allow them to select, and pay for, only the channels they want to watch.

Willner said a la carte cable would be "prohibitively expensive," because advertisers don't want subscribers to be able to restrict the number of channels they receive.

Advertisers think cable viewers often select the programs they watch by channel-surfing, using a remote control to flip from channel to channel until they find something interesting.

If channels are restricted, advertisers think, viewers are less likely to see the commercials and advertisers will want lower advertising rates, he said. That will mean higher rates for cable subscribers who want a la carte.

Willner is a Florida native who co-founded Insight in 1985 and is considered an industry pioneer.

He is known to many for his humorous TV commercials that show him caring for Insight subscribers' dogs and fixing their cars — doing whatever it takes to keep them happy.

He told the Rotarians that cable TV providers enjoyed monopolies in most markets until deregulation in 1996. Now they are challenged by satellite TV services and Internet competitors.

Cable companies have expanded their business by bundling telephone, Internet and cable TV services, Willner said, but technology is driving the industry and more changes are ahead.

Expanded on-demand movie and music offerings and more linkages between television sets and computers are ahead as digital broadcasting reshapes the television and cable industries.

"We are looking at a world where there is very little difference between a television and a computer in the very near future for anybody who wants it that way," Willner said.

Those who don't want that level of technical sophistication won't have to have it, he said. "What the cable industry is strategically attempting to do is be the best of both worlds."