Comcast Exec: Cable Needs Better Message

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Cable needs a new message.

That's the opinion of David Cohen, a top Comcast official who's unhappy the industry has been clobbered in the media for raising rates at a pace far greater than the rate of inflation.

For Cohen, cable needs to drum home the point that rates go up as operators invest in new facilities and services. The new message, he said, comes down to one word: value.

"I think we as industry need to do a better job of talking about what I fundamentally believe is the case, which is the incredible value proposition which cable delivers," said Cohen, a Comcast executive vice president who appeared on a panel here at last week's New England Cable & Telecommunications Association (NECTA) convention.

Two weeks ago, the Federal Communications Commission released a report showing that nominal cable rates rose 8.2% for the 12-month period ending June 30, 2002, while inflation was at less than 2%.

The same report disclosed that per-channel cable rates, adjusted for inflation, actually declined.

Cohen noted that major media outlets blared the news about the 8.2% increase — along with Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) press release which said that cable was gouging its customers — but buried the news about the per-channel decline, which is usually indicative of subscribers receiving more channels with their higher bills.

Cohen, who heads Comcast's government relations department, said it was up to the industry to promote its value to consumers to counter negative news brought on by the FCC's annual rate survey.

"That's a headline that is our responsibility in the cable industry to talk about more, to make people in Congress understand that the competitive landscape that we face has driven us to improve quality and improve the value proposition that we deliver to the customer," Cohen said.

Adelphia Communications Corp. CEO William Schleyer also said emphasis on cable's value should not be limited to the per-channel analysis.

Cable, he said, continues to add customers and take primetime audience from the broadcasters.

"The good news is that as the cost per-channel has been declining relative to inflation, viewership has exploded. The consumers are watching us more and on a per-channel basis paying us less," said Schleyer, who appeared on the panel with Cohen for questioning by CNBC journalist Ron Insana.

Cohen said that, for the time being, Comcast is not in the market to buy cable systems, a statement prompted by Insana's question about whether Comcast was interested in buying Adelphia.

"We are still in the digestive mode," Cohen said, referring to the AT&T Broadband acquisition last year that more than doubled the size of the company. "We are very comfortable with where we are sitting right now."

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