Cable’s Melting Pot

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Cable marketers completed the annual CTAM summit in Boston two weeks ago with no shortage of topics to tackle.

The agenda for the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing gathering included digital/pay-per-view/broadband content — owing to the closure of the annual digital conference earlier this year — and demonstrated the enormity of what cable has to offer, and the complexity in marketing it, to all who attended.

In fact, the thought can cross your mind whether cable has too much to market. Straight video marketing now includes video-on-demand, HDTV, digital video recorders and the combined permutations of all of the above.

Simple, single-priced cable-modem service has given way to tiers of services and the realization that telephony is entering the bundle, if it’s not there already. And as attendees of the Multichannel News CTAM breakfast discovered, there is a huge interest in broadband content as more cable home pages become virtual video-streaming stores.

Two weeks ago, Comcast Corp. signed a deal with ABC News and Disney to deliver ABC News online content and Disney Blast material to its portal. It’s the first 24/7 video-streaming channel Comcast has launched as part of its modem service.

It is also striking that the ABC News product is available for operators to use as a television VOD service. Comcast’s Online guys got to it first, and during this election season, cable-modem subscribers can, basically, watch the political conventions online.

Some may ask whether Comcast, or any cable operator, should put so much video on its Internet home page, risking that people will watch content online rather than on television. Was there, for instance, a debate inside the offices of Comcast whether the ABC News content should be on VOD servers vs. online servers?

Perhaps the answer is that it doesn’t much matter anymore. It probably doesn’t matter to consumers. If a consumer is so interested in online video, and is willing to put up with a smaller screen size and perhaps an occasional blip, why not provide them that service? It doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll want to cancel their linear TV service. Even if they do, capturing $40 in modem revenue is better than no revenue at all.

That, in fact, constitutes an increasing chorus among Wall Street analysts that want cable to go after data and data/voice subscribers with a vengeance. Analysts believe cable executives should open their eyes to that opportunity.

SBC Communications Inc. now counts 121,000 Dish subscribers. They don’t plan to wait for fiber-to-the-home or Internet Protocol-video to gain video-market share.

If there was one thing that was made clear at CTAM, it’s that cable is in a multi-front war, and it must develop and execute battle plans for each front: video, voice and data and the inherent combinations therein.

Sometimes that means pulling all three products together in one bundle better than any other provider can. But it also means fighting smaller battles in particular segments. Gaining a data/voice package from a direct broadcast satellite subscriber is great news, even if that subscriber never migrates his video service to cable. In that case, the cable operator has succeeded in blunting any telco entry into that household.

Take the recent Multivision video-streamed interview available on Multichannel News’s Web site with a cable subscriber who had given up landline phone service four years ago. He said he’d consider voice-over-IP, but the bottom line was he was content as a video/data cable subscriber.

Cable’s multitude of product offerings will require the industry to do a better job helping consumers pick and choose what offerings best fit them.

One size does not fit all anymore. The wide variety of cable products available automatically makes selling cable services more complex.

But it also requires operators to be more flexible to mix and match services to each household. Cable’s future success will depend on how well it finds answers to that complex problem.

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