Chicago -- If Wall Street is where greed meets fear, the
CTAM Marketing Summit here last week was where excitement met apprehension.
Cable operators expressed a sense of nervous, but also
exuberant, urgency that if they don't start learning how to sell high-speed Internet
access and digital cable, they may lose out on the lucrative new revenue streams that
those services promise.
This concern was underscored by the record-breaking
attendance of 2,736, which included a 23 percent increase on the cable-operator side over
last year's conference in Orlando, Fla. In the lobbies, veteran attendees wondered
who all of the new faces were at the conference.
More impressive, operators said CTAM attracted an increased
number of general managers, who felt that they needed to understand how to market the
barrage of new products hitting the industry.
"We sent more GMs because we felt that they had to be
here," said Linda Stuchell, vice president of programming and public affairs for
Harron Communications Corp. "They can't afford not to keep up with all
that's going on."
"Every one of our marketing managers who aren't
on vacation are here," added Lee Clayton, vice president of marketing for Rifkin
& Associates Inc. "That's a first for us."
Operators appeared most energized -- and apprehensive --
about rolling out high-speed Internet access.
"We're really seeing it in the last six
months," said Kurt Heisler, director of affiliate sales, Western region for ISP
Channel, which is selling midsized cable operators the ability to offer cable modems.
"Operators are feeling that they better do something now while the window is still
In fact, Craig Perica, general manager of InterMedia
Partners, told a standing-room-only seminar on "Battling for the High-Speed Internet
Customer" that if cable systems weren't "first to market with an Internet
offering, [they] could lose video customers."
And at the Summit's closing session Wednesday morning,
Julian Brodsky, vice chairman of Comcast Corp., said his MSO had "switched to a
totally offensive strategy" regarding new-revenue sources from interactive digital
video and data networks.
Revenue from transactions conducted when consumers use the
Internet for electronic commerce, Brodsky said, would "dominate" future cash
flow from the category, making even advertising "pale" by comparison.
The intense Internet interest at the conference was
epitomized by the well-received appearance of Scott McNealy, chairman of Sun Microsystems
Inc., who urged operators to "use Web-based technologies in the cable plant ...
because that's where content is being created in the marketplace."
Telephony returned to the forefront, as pioneers such as
MediaOne and Time Warner Cable shared the results of their early experiences in that
market, primarily urging other MSOs to target their markets carefully and to present
limited product offerings.
Ron Cooper, executive vice president of operations for
MediaOne and co-chairman of the Summit, called the pressure on operators to understand new
products and markets "head-spinning. It shows how profoundly our industry has been
impacted by change and how we've got to make sure that marketing is the driver for
all of these product introductions."
According to Char Beales, president and CEO of CTAM, the
conference was characterized by cable attempting to "get its arms around big ideas
that will drive the industry into the future."
Getting a handle on how to market digital cable appeared to
be top of mind for nearly everyone at the conference.
Ellen Schned, Bravo's new director of national
accounts, and one of the many executives attending the conference for the first time, said
digital dominated hallway conversations among operators and programmers.
"People are talking about digital tiers," she
said. "They're looking for answers, but they didn't necessarily find
Operators, Clayton said, were concerned about setting
realistic penetration levels for digital cable, and with how to grow the category beyond
the obvious initial target market of premium subscribers. And, she warned, operators need
to be prepared to address confusion in the marketplace when broadcasters begin introducing
their own digital product.
Attendees also speculated freely about the AT&T
Corp.-Tele-Communications Inc. merger, as veteran cable executives expressed skepticism
that the disparate corporate cultures of the two companies would meld smoothly, if at all.
Field-level managers wondered if the deal would mean more
consolidation in the industry, and how it would affect them -- adding to the feeling of
both excitement and uncertainty that was prevalent in Chicago.
Yet amid the swirl of new products and industry
realignments, longtime marketing executives like Rick Sperry, vice president of marketing
at Comcast, and Dave Intrator, vice president of programming and marketing at Marcus Cable
Co. L.P., cautioned that the core cable business remained the top priority for MSO
Intrator stressed the virtues of advanced-analog systems,
saying that operators need to focus on innovative ways to get and keep customers,
"and not get distracted by digital."
In her opening-general-session address to the marketers,
Beales also focused on the core business, praising MSOs for finally beginning to increase
their marketing budgets in "meaningful ways" and commending Cablevision Systems
Corp., MediaOne and Time Warner for elevating the status of marketing within their
But Beales also said cable marketers need to rely more on
research and less on "gut instinct," and she scolded marketers for "letting
the On-Time Guarantee become mainly a public-service initiative, and not an integral part
Next year's conference will take place July 18 to 21
in San Francisco. Leading the planning will be Marcus chief operating officer Lou Borelli
and Dan Davids, executive vice president and general manager of The History Channel.