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Forum: The State of Broadband Research

2/06/2000 7:00 PM Eastern

As we prepared for the Cable & TelecommunicationsAssociation for Marketing's 17th research conference, "MergingMarketing and TechnologyThrough Research," there was much animated discussionabout the future of research as a discipline and how we will meet the challenges of thebroadband marketplace.

Few businesses have undergone the rapid transformationsthat we have been a part of the past few months (and days). We will need to continue toassess how this will affect the research community -- how we are managing today and how weprepare for an explosive future.

Considering the accelerating pace at which change is takingplace, the decision-making processes in all operational areas of a company are morestressed and strained than ever before. Along with that, the stressed and straineddecision-makers will be demanding much more. For research purposes, they will be desperatefor:

• Fast, informed and reliable micro- and macromarketcondition intelligence;

• Technology, product and pricing feasibilityforecasts; and

• Plans on possible and probable risks, opportunitiesand outcomes.

Some of these demands may be well beyond those currentlyconsidered by researchers at either the program networks or distribution companies.

For example, research in designing interactive content willemerge as a big part of industry efforts by the end of the year, and it is probably new tomany. This research requires greater use of usability and laboratory-testingmethodologies, in which we will need to become more deeply immersed and well-versed. Inaddition, a greater number of market trials are also a consequence ofcreating new interactive set-top-box features and products.

THE BLESSINGS OF CHANGE

In some ways, researchers are blessed to be living in atime of such rapid and accelerating technological change. As new technologies emerge andcombine to become an enabling force for new content and new forms of distribution, theresearch area will become an ever-more-relied-upon entity within a given organization.

This is likely for several reasons. Understanding theconsumer will be more important than ever. The most brilliant developments in technologycan be linked to the customer only after extensive research and testing.

• New products will need to be identified andevaluated with regard to consumer demand, the impact on current business models and theviability for new business development. This must be done not just in the narrow focus ofa given company's primary area of operation, but across all media, social andcultural landscapes.

• The pace of change will mandate rapid evaluations,reasoned responses and rational leverage recommendations.

• The imaginations and drive of program-development;engineering and operations; and marketing and advertising executives will demand thatresearchers stretch their imaginations, as well.

Researchers who are able to think multidimensionally willbecome that much more valuable to the core decision-making and business-building entitieswithin their organizations.

THE CHALLENGES

We will be emotionally, intellectually andresource-challenged. In particular, the biggest challenge may be simply ascertaining therelative consumer demand of all of the new business opportunities inherent in newbroadband platforms.

"Going broadband," in effect, means entering amultitude of businesses. We'll all need to acquire a greater knowledge of thetechnologies that make these opportunities possible to be effective in our jobs.

On the resource side, an increase in demand, bothexternally and internally, doesn't necessarily equate to an increase in resources --time andmoney. Today's researcher will be challenged to creatively andresourcefully allocate both.

Lastly, on a daily basis, researchers will be challenged toexpand their ability to shed light on -- or, if fortunate enough, to solve -- the complexproblems attendant to this rapidly changing world.

Not only will we have to find, adopt, or perhaps eveninvent new ways of doing business, but, more significant, we will be challenged to embracenew methods and approaches outside of the research "comfort zone."

NEW RESEARCH METHODOLOGIES

Every broadband-industry player knows that they need to beinvolved in the Internet explosion. For researchers, as new product and service packagesbecome more heavily influenced and driven by the Internet, online-survey methodologies,for instance, are becoming a larger part of everyone's research agenda. The strengthsand weaknesses of online-survey methods need to be better understood by the researchcommunity. We have much trial and error ahead of us in this area.

In both product development and market research, a greatdeal of attention is being paid to the newly emerging area of ethnographic research (alsoknown as observational or user-centered research).

Grounded in anthropology, this approach shifts theresearchers' focus from discerning a broad-stroke understanding of consumer needs andpreferences (typically associated with the more traditional methods, such as focus groupsand surveys) to understanding and creating an in-depth picture of the individualcustomer's world view and value system through participatory observation. Again, thiswill challenge today's researcher to navigate some relatively uncharted territory.

JOINING TOGETHER

There are countless and varied reasons for the broadbandresearch community to unite in preparing for the future. This week, we gather at theMerging Marketing and Technology Through Research conference (in warm Arizona!) to set thepace for 2000.

Today's media environment is being driven harder andfaster by the newly emerging technologies. From enabling "digi-nets" andvideo-on-demand to driving interactive content and electronic commerce, technology ischanging the industry landscape as fast as we can analyze, anticipate and prepare ourcompanies to benefit from those changes.

This conference will deal with this challenge head-on byproviding real-world case studies that directly address the technological conditions andmarketing challenges attendant to this landscape. Participants will gain invaluableinsights about how to conduct research as innovative as the products and services thateither are, or are about to become, an integral part of it.

More specifically, with MSOs aggressively deploying digitalcable and other broadband services, tracking programs focused on this new product categorywill be required.

The conference tutorial on decision-support tools is quitegermane here. The "Analytical Tools for Managing Churn" tutorial will proveuseful for operators with customer-retention challenges. Regarding new online-researchmethodologies, there will be both a tutorial on the subject and a panel focused on drawingcomparisons to traditional research methodologies. And the list goes on.

Can we fully prepare for all of the advances the broadbandrevolution will present? Of course not. Some haven't even been conceived yet. But wecan get accustomed to preparing on a daily basis.

Research, like knowledge, is a quest, and not a goal.Through conferences such as this, publications and other communications throughout thecommunity, we can continuously stimulate our imaginations and enhance our skills. We willsucceed by taking this journey together.

Pete Gatseos is vice president, strategic research forAT&T Broadband & Internet Services.

Anthony White is a principal in White Sand Media. Both areco-chairs of this week's CTAM Research Conference.

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