Conquering the Digital Wave

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With an arsenal of new digital products at its disposal, the cable industry is now more uniquely positioned to compete for customers than we have been at any other time in recent memory.

This is good news as the industry prepares to convene in Los Angeles next week for the annual Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing Digital & Broadband Conference.

The theme, "Ride the Wave Full On," is appropriate for this year's conference as a clear focus on meeting consumers' needs, meeting the competition head-on, and mastering "the bundle" will help cable ride the wave of convergence to new heights.

Today's consumers are more sophisticated and technically savvy. Consumers' increasing sophistication demands that we treat our research, development and marketing processes as one, and that we are governed by the overarching principle of "keeping it simple."

Remember, consumers will pay a premium for those technologies and services that deliver on a meaningful promise in a simple and easy-to-use way (think iPod). In the absence of such simplicity and elegance, technology becomes reduced to a litany of features.

The complex entertainment and information technology environment in which consumers live adds to their stress and sense of time pressure. Our challenge is to clearly position our advanced services as products that alleviate that time pressure and accompanying stress, and to make these services as simple and as easy to use as a microwave oven.

With technology, it's critical that consumers understand benefits — awareness of features is not enough. Take on-demand service, for example. Many consumers realize "on demand" means that they can watch what they want when they want, with VCR-like functionality.

After all, they have been using a VCR for two decades. However, that knowledge does not transfer into a clear benefit, nor does it translate easily into a 30-second TV spot. We know consumers need to experience the product in order to have an "on-demand epiphany," just like they did with high-speed Internet access a few years ago.

Since 1996, the cable industry has invested more than $75 billion to ensure that it would have the platform necessary to offer the advanced services customers want. Over that period, cable's unparalleled, two-way networks have enabled the launch of digital cable and the rollout of new products such as on-demand, HDTV, high-speed Internet, cable telephony, digital video recorders and ITV, establishing cable as the leader in offering entertainment and information to the home from one point of connection.

As we leverage those assets, our ongoing focus must be on meeting competitive challenges head-on. Today, satellite providers serve more than 20 million subscribers, or 22% of all multichannel video households. Meanwhile, the telephone companies have returned to the playing field by lowering the price of digital subscriber line service and again positioning themselves to deliver video.

To compete successfully, let's raise the bar in our consumer communications and ensure that customers understand the value of cable's broad array of products and services. National industry initiatives, such as "Only Cable Can," show that cable is making great strides in prioritizing products and marketing them aggressively with a unified front.

To succeed, aggressive and unified communications approaches need to be the norm, not the exception. We need unified, focused messages about what sets our digital products apart from the competition; and above all, we must be passionate.

Finally, since consumers' appetite for content is growing rapidly, cable companies and content providers must work together to build a new economic model that looks beyond appointment viewing, traditional ad sales, serial windows and syndication revenues.

Cable's high-speed Internet service has proven to represent a clear competitive advantage versus satellite and an important revenue stream for cable. Newer products also represent a compelling opportunity for improving consumer perceptions, while marketing those services together is proving to be an important way of communicating cable's value.

Cox Communications Inc. has played a leading role in the bundling of advanced video, high-speed Internet and telephone services. Cox executives will keynote this year's Digital & Broadband Conference, sharing the strategies and tactics they have used to master the bundle.

As cable continues to introduce new products like cable phone, HDTV and home networking, it will be increasingly important to help customers understand that they can receive all of these products from one company with one point of connection.

While we continue to operate in a competitive environment, it is quite clear that to succeed, more importantly to thrive, we must work together. It's critical, for example, that cable marketers and engineers collaborate in the product development process.

Cable has many killer "apps" in its arsenal and is well-positioned to ride this big wave. While it sounds simple enough, there are many details.

So, surf's up! Grab your board, join us in L.A. and let's all get set to ride this wave together, full-on.

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