Beales Brings Marketing Savvy to Independent Show

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Chicago -- Char Beales loaned her expertise to small cable companies here Tuesday as she shared some of her organization’s research on new products and led a panel of independent operators, who explained their recent marketing forays and challenges.

Beales, CEO of the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing, moderated a session at The Independent Show on “Effective Marketing Strategies for Independent Cable Companies.”

She kicked off the panel by citing CTAM research on how digital-cable customers are less interested in satellite service and the value of video-on-demand and digital-video recorders to cable.

Then several cable operators -- members of the National Cable Television Cooperative -- took turns describing some of their marketing initiatives.

Panelist Mary Meier, senior vice president of marketing for Suddenlink Communications, explained some of the branding activities -- from employee parties to print and TV ad campaigns -- that took place with the renaming of her company, formerly known as Cebridge Connections, earlier this year.

The company decided to go with a rebranding after it tripled in size, growing to 1.4 million homes, following the acquisition of systems from Cox Communications and, ultimately, Charter Communications.

Meier conceded that the initial internal reaction to the Suddenlink wasn’t very positive.

“It was pretty much hated,” she said.

Panelist Florence Buchanan, VP of sales and marketing for Buckeye CableSystem in Toledo, Ohio, described its effort to boost customer retention, in part, by launching a triple-play bundle in July.

Buckeye offers six triple-play packages, ranging anywhere from $89.99-$159.99 per month, according to Buchanan. Buckeye branded its bundle as the “VIP” package, as in video, Internet and phone.

As of July 23, Buckeye has 561 customers for its bundle, Buchanan said. Buckeye has 147,600 subscribers overall.

And panelist Jerry McKenna, Cable One’s VP of strategic marketing, did a presentation about his 700,000-subscriber company’s efforts to cut down churn.

McKenna’s research found that digital cable has the highest rate of churn of any product category for new installations.

He offered a detailed analysis of how to cut back on switchouts, such as not offering deep discounts to customers who won’t supply a credit card or sign a contract for Cable One services, and how to conduct fewer mailings to high-churn groups.

These tactics have worked for Cable One, according to McKenna, since churn for the cable operator is down 14% from 2003 to 2005.

The keynote luncheon speaker at the show Tuesday was Insight Communications CEO Michael Willner.

Under questioning -- on a variety of topics from national franchising to retransmission consent -- by NCTC president Jeff Abbas and Matt Polka, president of the American Cable Association, Willner said cable has to send a common message when it lobbies in Washington.

“We believe in deregulation hook, line and sinker,” he said at one point.

Insight is 50%-owned by Comcast and, during a question-and-answer period, Willner was asked about Insight getting the benefit of the same kind of volume discounts on programming that Comcast does.

Willner tried to beg off the question, but he did say that there are differences in what Comcast pays. “We don’t get all of their discounts -- we get some of them, and there are differences,” he added.

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