ITV Marketers Seek Customer-Friendly Approach

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Cable operators are rolling out interactive television services on a slow, but steady basis. That's a better outlook for the medium than last summer, when only one top-10 MSO made a deployment.

But at the recent Interactive TV Show USA conference here, panelists said operators must make ITV more consumer-friendly in the short run, or risk alienating the masses when rollouts happen everywhere. That means providing effective and consistent marketing support.

For interactive cable applications to hit home, "the consumer cannot be an afterthought," said Jill Rosengard, entertainment division managing director for Frank Magid Associates.

"ITV must be about I — the consumer — even more than traditional TV. The attention operators give to marketing the benefits of ITV is as important as the product itself."

Rosengard, whose division's ITV and video-on-demand consulting practice lists Comcast Cable Communications Inc. and Cox Communications Inc. as clients, wants the cable industry to lobby for consistent ITV marketing and promotion nationwide. Different operators market individual applications on the local or regional level — with no common game plan.

With direct-broadcast satellite giants DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp. hawking Wink Communications Inc., TiVo Inc. and other ITV, on-demand and digital video recorder services under a national footprint, "maybe operators should consider national marketing tactics, where the benefits message gets resonated," she said.

A new survey from Magid, citing responses from more than 1,100 phone interviews last month, illustrated the kind of audience cable can build if ITV applications are executed and promoted well. If free VOD was added to a cable system's digital package, 28 percent of the survey participants indicated they would be very likely to upgrade, while 32 percent were somewhat likely to do so.

Also, 29 percent of African-American and 34 percent of Latino consumers in the survey's sample base would go to digital cable for free VOD, compared with 18 percent of Caucasians.

Guides lack luster

Interactive program guides are the natural entry point for all sorts of ITV services, but the Magid survey offered some disturbing news. Although 52 percent of the sample use IPGs from their cable or DBS provider, about half of that bunch remarked that if they didn't have IPGs, "they'd miss it, but they could do without it."

The reason why: guides are more text than graphics and visual aids, Rosengard said. "Think of the digital cable world as a super shopping center. How am I going to try a new store there if I don't see it? You've got to get me a better schematic that's more like the video store."

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