Howe Thinks Differently


Those trying to get a read on Sam Howe's thinking as Time Warner Cable's new chief marketing officer would do well to look at the MSO's San Antonio system. There, Digital Telephone is the first product customer-service representatives pitch when they receive consumer calls.

The San Antonio system's gambit of turning to telephone to get customers in the door — and later upselling subscribers to the core video product — helped Time Warner boost its basic-cable subscriber count by 26,000 during the first quarter.

Howe, who was promoted to CMO last week from head of marketing for Time Warner's Voice Services unit, said there won't be significant shifts in the MSO's marketing strategy.


But he said there will be several tactical tweaks, including:

  • Emphasizing individual products such as Road Runner and digital cable, rather than focusing most marketing muscle on pitching the bundle of video, voice and data;
  • Testing big price breaks in digital video recorder service, which currently costs most subscribers about $10 monthly, in a bid to drive DVR penetration past the 50% mark;
  • And using Time Warner's upcoming “Start Over” time-shifted programming service as a tool to drive digital video subscriber growth, and combat satellite competition.

“I've come from the phone side, but I grew up in cable TV,” said Howe, who held positions at Turner Broadcasting System Inc., Cox Communications Inc. and United Kingdom MSO Telewest Communications plc, before joining Time Warner Cable in 2003. “But the phone side, being a challenger, has forced me to think differently. I'd like to apply some of that thinking differently to our core product.”

Howe succeeds Chuck Ellis, whose resignation was announced in January, along with the departures of vice chairman and chief operating officer John Billock and president Tom Baxter.

The MSO last week also shifted senior vice president of corporate marketing Brian Kelly to its Carolina division, where he'll serve as regional senior vice president of marketing and sales.

Howe takes over Time Warner's marketing department at a time when competition from DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp. is as fierce as it's ever been. Time Warner also faces a blitz from telcos that have slashed DSL rates to as low as $14.99 monthly, while competition is looming on the video side from Verizon Communications Inc. and SBC Communications Corp.


Although Time Warner doesn't plan to follow Cablevision Systems Corp.'s move to steeply discount its triple-play bundle, Howe said some Time Warner systems will use ads touting “beacon pricing” to lure customers, and then attempt to sell additional tiers of services to consumers that respond to the low-price messages.

Howe said some of Time Warner's upcoming marketing campaigns produced by new ad agency Ogilvy & Mather will try to give subscribers a “new view of television” and “how the television experience that Time Warner brings you is different.”

Some spots will trumpet “Start Over,” a service that will roll out later this year, allowing subscribers who missed the start of a program to pick it up from the beginning.