To help better understand viewing preferences of cable television households and gauge the satisfaction levels of emerging digi-nets, A&E Television Networks partnered with three of the top 10 MSOs and The Artemis Group on a study released late last month.
The yearlong study tracked 2,850 digital and analog customers of AT&T Broadband, Charter Communications Inc. and Insight Communications Co. The operators worked with A&E to help determine what influenced digital-cable retention.
"None of these MSOs built their business plans on getting 10 percent or even 30 percent penetration of digital," A&E director of digital sales and special markets Walter Oden said.
"More channels and more choices" topped the list of key reasons consumers chose to subscribe to digital cable, according to survey results released late last month. Oden said the best way for cable operators to react to the results was to "provide a price/value equation that's really palatable for the digital consumer." He added that each MSO has a different strategy for rolling out digital.
A WIDER NET
Because most operators have moved past the early adopter phase in their digital rollouts, they can now pitch to a wider variety of target groups, Oden said.
"That's the beauty of digital cable," he said. "It allows you to target across a lot of demographics," including ethnically diverse populations and a variety of income levels.
"We're trying to dig deeper," Oden added.
Documentaries and biographical profiles topped the list of programming genres that attracted the most loyal digital cable customers, according to A&E, which owns services that feed into those genres, including The History Channel and Biography Channel.
Direct-broadcast satellite providers were not included in the study. Oden could not say whether DBS customers were any more or less likely to be susceptible to churn as digital cable customers.
Aside from more channels and more choices, consumers turned to digital cable for its clearer pictures, special promotions offered by operators and the variety of programming available, according to the study. Reasons cited less often included "only choice given by customer service rep," more premium channels, interactive programming guide, good value, better sound quality, additional channel availability, personal recommendation and music channels.
Specific channels, such as The History Channel International, The Biography Channel and Lifetime Movie Network, each scored 1 percent or less among reasons listed for switching to digital cable.
Certain digi-nets did score high among channels that digital subscribers said they would miss most if they were no longer available on their cable line-up.
The top 10 were: Lifetime Movie Network (11.9 percent), BBC America (4.7 percent), The Biography Channel (3.6 percent), DMX Digital Music (3.6 percent), Game Show Network (3.4 percent), Discovery Science (3.2 percent), Discovery Wings (2.3 percent), The History Channel International (2.1 percent), Outdoor Life (1.9 percent) and Discovery Health (1.8 percent).
A&E plans to repeat the study, although not necessarily on an annual basis, Oden said.
In its efforts to promote digital cable, the programmer runs combo spots highlighting digital cable and high-speed data services, as well as image spots to reinforce the Biography Channel and History Channel International brands.
In addition, "We're exploring partnership opportunities with other strong network brands," Oden said. "It's not one network that will bring people to the table, but multiple strong brands."