ahead at warp speed. Video on demand, high-speed Internet service and digital video recorders all have become part of the landscape for cable operators and consumers.

As Mediaweek senior reporter Mike Shields reports in “Short Order,” cable programmers are seeking out even more options for consumers, and not necessarily on the TV. Programmers now are considering what content is appropriate for other screens, including mobile phones, computers and iPods. Cable TV shows are edited for short-form presentations and expanded with additional content for streaming over the Internet. Sports programming is sent in real time over cell phones, while other networks are experimenting with VOD over the Internet. It’s a free-for-all—although it’s not always free, of course. Consumers will be making a lot more choices in the coming years, not only about what they will be watching, but where and how.

While programmers are working on all those options for content-hungry consumers, telco Verizon is taking on the cable operators with its own version of programming: on-demand and HD content. What it means for consumers is that they will have an almost infinite number of programming choices. That, in addition to Internet service and its traditional phone service, has Verizon offering consumers a “triple play”: video, high-speed Internet and phone service that will compete directly with cable.

Mediaweek managing editor Jim Cooper spoke with Terry Denson, vp, strategy and acquisition for Verizon’s FiOS TV, who is working acquire content for the fledgling cable rival. He is focused on giving consumers what they want. “We’ve got the most diverse channel lineup in the business and we have the simplest packaging,” he tells Cooper. “Whatever the customer values is what we are going after.”

One traditional cable network trying to survive in this new world is A&E. By 2003, its admirable, if somewhat sleepy, arts content was drawing an audience with an average age of 61. “Our average age was going up by one year every year,” A&E’s exec vp, programming and general manager Bob DeBitetto told Mediaweek’s Anthony Crupi. “And there’s obviously an endgame there if you don’t do something.” A&E did do something. “A Dose of Reality” chronicles how the network has brought its median age down and its ratings up.

It’s another example of giving consumers what they ask for. The networks and operators who can provide it will be the ones who stay ahead of the game. —Patricia Orsini