As the industry prepares to travel to Los Angeles next
month for the CTAM Digital & Pay-Per-View Conference, we thought it appropriate to
reflect on the state of the business.
(Subtext: Hold onto your seats, because you're about
to be hit with some tough love.)
While no one would argue that PPV has achieved the success
that it someday will, it has performed better than a lot of people would have you believe.
(PPV is a sleeping giant -- unfortunately, the operative
word is, 'sleeping.')
Why has this unique concept taken so long to justify the
time and resources being expended to drive it? There are a number of reasons, to be sure.
In some instances, it's windows; in others, it's public perception, splits,
shelf space and a lack of consistent promotion.
(You want reasons? There are more than you need to know.)
Each side of the PPV business would be happy to suggest a
litany of things that could be done to make it more profitable for them. The operators
would like better splits and more national support; the networks want more channel space
and better local support; the studios want all of the above; and the promoters want all of
that, and them some.
(Who's to blame? Ask 10 different people, get 10
The question that begs to be answered is: 'Can PPV
ever reach its potential, given the tremendous challenges facing the various
(So, what the heck can we do about it?)
While the complex nature of the business precludes the
possibility of a financial silver bullet, there is hope that even in the current analog
world, PPV could achieve new and greater heights than it has.
(It ain't gonna happen overnight, but we can fix this
One of the first things that the respective players should
do is to come to the understanding that if PPV gets stronger as a business, the benefits
will be realized by companies across the board.
(Want a bigger slice of the pie? One way to get it is to
bake a bigger pie.)
There is a sense of heightened anticipation in the industry
over the coming of digital television. Digital will increase channel capacity, improve
picture quality and facilitate ease of ordering. With digital will come an new era for PPV
and a chance for redemption in the eyes of many.
(A lot of people figure, 'Why not 'hit the snooze
button' until digital arrives, at which point the money pump will kick in?')
The reality is, however, that while digital may be closer
than ever to becoming a reality, it is still not going to reach critical mass for some
time. As with many new technologies, the early adopters will do just that, but the rest of
the marketplace is going to ease into the transition. In addition, the capital costs for
companies to go digital are significant, and they must be weighed against other financial
considerations. So while some organizations will eagerly adopt digital, others will be
slower to move.
(Again, this ain't gonna happen overnight.)
Time, competition and consumer demand, however, march
forward. And even with evolving digital deployment, PPV can be a windfall to this
(If you don't find a way to accommodate that
entertainment dollar burning a hole in your customers' pockets, someone else will be
What is essential for cable to do now is to forget about
the past and to focus on the future. What PPV is today does not have to be what PPV can be
tomorrow. And what PPV can be will happen only if each company focuses less on
finger-pointing and more on assuming ownership of the business. No matter how well each
player thinks his or her PPV operation is run, the fact of the matter is that it could be
(As Shakespeare wrote, 'The fault lies not in our
stars, but in ourselves.' Muscled up for that one, didn't we?)
For starters, the current state of marketing in PPV is not
all that it could be. At times, it seems as though the marketing responsibilities are
being held in joint custody by both the content and distribution sides of the business,
and that they remain an obligation to both parties, but a priority of neither.
(Hey, marketing works.)
In anticipation of digital (and perhaps despite digital),
each company in the PPV business must redouble its marketing efforts -- and not merely in
terms of quantity, but quality. The level of imagination, creativity and strategy that is
given to the company's core business must be given to PPV. Even for those networks
solely in the business of PPV, a long, hard look must be taken at resources being
committed to marketing, with the understanding that the commitment needs to go even
(Tried marketing already? Try more. And try better.)
While the true digital age still may be a few years away,
the time to prepare is now. This PPV business has struck gold on a number of occasions,
but it has had its share of misfires, as well. Although we shouldn't dwell on the
past, we should learn from it. We should benefit from the experience of our mistakes and
explore the secrets of our successes. And, lest you missed it the first time, we should do
(Sure, it ain't gonna happen overnight -- but
it's gonna happen a lot sooner than you think.)
PPV can be a major contributor to our companies'
bottom lines, and it can serve as the first option for consumers, whose appetite for home
entertainment is well-documented. But it is going to require better cooperation among
everyone involved, a never-before-seen commitment to marketing and a greater sense of
urgency to take this portion of our business to the next level. If those three things
happen, digital or not, PPV will become a real force in this industry.
(Get it in gear. The clock's ticking.)
If the issues outlined above have any relevance to your
job, you really should be in Los Angeles next month for the first-ever CTAM Digital &
Pay-Per-View Conference. For three days, we'll combine the nuts and bolts of
successful PPV tactics with the excitement of digital. It promises to be a very special
experience, and one that will be well worth your while. See you there.
(Don't even think about missing this one.)
Jim Braun, director of new product development at Time
Warner Cable, and Curtis Symonds, president and chief operating officer at BET Holdings
Inc.'s Action Pay-Per-View, are co-chairing, along with Cox Communications Inc.
executive vice president of operations Jayson Juraska, the 1998 CTAM Digital &
Pay-Per-View Conference, March 18 to 20 in Los Angeles.