Cable Must Make Offers Simple, Accessible

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New Orleans -- Cable has a wealth of unique products it can use to attract consumers, but it must carefully choose which to pursue and make those offerings as accessible and simple as possible, officials said at Sunday’s "Cable’s Broadband Home" general session, co-sponsored by the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing.

Today, cable operators can pick and choose from -- or ultimately bundle -- a broad range of technology-based products including HDTV, home media centers, high-speed data, broadband content, digital-video-recorders, video-on-demand, interactive TV and telephony.

A big question becomes, "What do you put your resources against?" said panelist Pat Esser, executive vice president of operations for Cox Communications Inc.

At the same time, Sean Bratches, ESPN’s executive VP of affiliate sales and marketing, warned: "It’s going to be a marketing challenge to introduce such an array of products to the marketplace and then manage sending them a $600 bill."

Esser agreed. "At the end of the day, if it’s not simple, the consumer is going to turn it off," he said, noting that retail could become one of cable’s most important sales channels in this environment.

Panel moderator Char Beales, CTAM’s president, pointed out that only a fraction -- 2 million -- of HDTV homes subscribe to HDTV service from cable or direct-broadcast satellite.

One of the issues is content, according to Maggie Bellville, executive VP and chief operating officer of Charter Communications Inc. She noted that "sales just went crazy" once the MSO added ESPN HD to its HDTV offering. Bratches promptly walked over to Bellville and handed her some cash, prompting her to quip, "That’s probably the only time I’ll get something from ESPN."

Cox has already had huge success with HDTV, according to Esser, signing up cable-nevers and upselling basic subscribers to digital.

In term of prioritizing, Esser said video is most important to Cox. "We as an industry took our eyes off of it," he added. "It gives us an opportunity to layer other services onto it."