It’s been 16 months since Marvin Davis left Verizon Wireless to join Comcast Corp. as senior vice president of marketing. This Marvin Davis is not to be confused with the oil tycoon who sold Hollywood studio 20th Century Fox Film Corp. to Rupert Murdoch two decades ago. He is instead the man — but not the actor — behind those famous “Can you hear me now?” spots for Verizon. Now, Davis is looking to help Comcast add wireless phone service to the bundle of products it sells to customers nationwide, while keeping DirecTV and Verizon at bay. He sat down recently with Multichannel News editor, digital news Steve Donohue to discuss the “quadruple play” and the intensity of competitive marketing.
MCN: When do you expect to begin adding wireless phone to the bundle, to have the quadruple bundle?
Marvin Davis: We don’t have a set timetable for the broad rollout. We are testing it in a couple of markets later this year, and it’s part of the bundle. But the real benefit of what wireless will bring is the ability for us to basically integrate the products that we have today, and give our customers more convenient options of how they can take those services with them. No set timetable other than the launch of a couple of trial markets, and then you’ll hear more about that as we go into 2007.
MCN: Could you give me an idea of how it will be packaged and priced?
MD: I don’t want to get into any specifics about pricing. But from a structure standpoint, we definitely want to make it easy and convenient, and so you could imagine if there’s a set price for three products, we’ll be looking to have an easy-to-communicate price for those products, plus wireless.
MCN: What’s your primary marketing pitch these days?
MD: It varies somewhat by market. In the triple-play markets, we are definitely focused on the bundle and the awareness of that. And even in those markets, we still are maintaining a presence and support for single products, since there are still customers who for whatever reason may not need to take all three products. And then in the non-triple-play markets, we’re continuing with our strategy of driving the product superiority between our video and high-speed products.
MCN: Are most of your divisions triple-play markets now?
MD: Most of them are. When you get through the end of July, we’ll be at probably 70% of our footprint.
MCN: We’ve seen Verizon slowly deploy in some markets where you compete head to head. How has the competitive environment changed in the last year?
MD: The only thing that’s changing is the intensity continues to increase. But we’re seeing a lot of what we’ve seen before.
The [telephone companies] are continuing with their aggressive price discounting and heavy media spending, both in terms of bundle and single-product activity. We’re in an intense competitive environment. It just continues to get more intense.
MCN: How does that affect your marketing strategy?
MD: Our marketing strategy remains the same. We offer superior products at a good value, and we think that strategy and that message is still the best one for us, and we’re seeing good results behind it. The most evident change is that as we roll out Digital Voice, being able to deliver on that promise of superior products and value only gets stronger with the triple-play.
MCN: Do you charge less in systems where you have more competition, not only from satellite, but telephone companies, than you do on systems where satellite is the only rival?
MD: We don’t make major changes to our pricing strategy on a market-by-market basis. Depending upon how aggressive the competitor is, we may invest more as far as getting our message out to make sure it’s heard. We have to make sure that we’re competitive maybe from a promotional standpoint. But no, we are not going out and making system by system pricing changes just based on the competition in that market.
MCN: Your New England division recently began running a win-back offer in which it offered former satellite and RCN customers a $69 package of basic cable, high-speed Internet and phone. Are you looking to try that approach elsewhere?
MD: Decentralization is a big part of how we go to market. So you may see small efforts on an individual market basis, but that’s not necessarily indicative of our overall strategy.
MCN: Your triple-play offer on most systems nationwide is $99 for digital video, voice and high-speed data. Are you looking to drop the price even further?
MD: We think it’s a great value exactly where it is, and the response we’re getting from the market confirms that it is. We see no need to go away from that anytime soon.
MCN: In the long run, [with] more and more competition from Verizon and AT&T, are you concerned that a price war could develop, if a company like AT&T, which is known for steeply discounting [digital subscriber line service], takes that same approach with video?
MD: They’ve been doing that. We compete with them today with deeply discounted DSL pricing. We’ve been fairly successful in talking about what you get for the price.
We offer a superior product at a good price for the value that you get for that product. We’ve been in that environment for quite some time, and we think that our approach and our strategy is working for us.
MCN: Do you give your customer service reps any flexibility in terms of, if I’m a Comcast Seattle customer, and I threaten to drop Comcast for DirecTV, does the customer service rep have the flexibility to make me a better offer to retain me as a customer?
MD: We’re definitely trying to retain every customer, and we do have different approaches based on what that customer says. We think that our standard offers we have in the market are going to be sufficient for most of the customers that are there. It’s definitely on an exception basis. There is some flexibility — we’re a decentralized structure, so there is some flexibility within given markets based on the competitive environment they’re in.
We believe if we’re doing a good job of communicating what we have, we think that our prices are competitive. It’s just not within our approach to spend a lot of time trying to respond to specific competitors and specific markets. That gets to be inefficient, and that’s not really the way we want to do business.
MCN: How effective has the 'Comcastic’ campaign been?
MD: We’re pleased with the results. The 'Comcastic’ campaign is really just one approach to our overall branding or product positioning, which is we offer a superior experience for TV, high-speed Internet and now voice services. We continue to look for ways to communicate that are going to break through, that are going to be memorable and have people play back those product superiority messages. It is doing very well in that sense.