Cable operators around the country may be giving
subscribers a six- to eight-hour programming bonus this fall that will also be used as a
promotional tool to extol the benefits of cable -- and to knock the competition.
Terry Rich, president of Des Moines, Iowa-based Rich
Heritage Inc., a production and marketing company, is pitching MSOs on a "Customer
Appreciation Night," featuring "event" programming exclusive to cable. This
will include a sports event or concert; prize giveaways to customers;
"anti-competition messages"; and behind-the-scenes features on cable shows and
the local cable system.
Rich said about a half-dozen MSOs, as well as the National
Cable Television Co-Op, have expressed interest in the idea, and he expects the
first telecast to air in October or November, with six more programs planned for 1999.
Rich said he saw the telecasts as both a programming and
promotional event that would be offered free-of-charge to customers on a local-origination
"The whole idea is to put the spotlight on
cable," Rich said. "Satellite services have begun offering exclusive
programming, and we want to provide high quality programming that cable customers
can't get anywhere else.
"This is designed to be a value-added bonus,"
Rich added. "It promotes benefits, reinforces retention and lets people know
what's going on with cable and the competition."
Cable operators seemed more comfortable with the
"bonus" aspect of Customer Appreciation Night than with its anti-DBS component.
David Intrator, vice president of programming and marketing
for Marcus Cable Co. L.P., said he "likes the idea a lot," but he sees it as
pro-cable, rather than anti-competition.
"It's something that we can do for our customers
that sets us apart," he said. "It talks about the benefits of cable and goes
behind the scenes. And with different operators involved, it allows us to become unified
in a big push for cable."
Donna Young, executive director of marketing for InterMedia
Partners, said she was drawn to the customer-retention part of the proposed telecasts.
"It gives people something of value as a reward for
being a subscriber," she said, "and I don't think that we do enough of
One cable executive who did think that the anti-DBS message
was important was Michael Pandzik, president and CEO of the Kansas City, Mo.-based NCTC.
Pandzik, who "strongly endorses" the idea, said the co-op has encouraged members
to take part.
"It's another good book on the shelf to have
better public relations with our subscribers and to discuss the benefits of cable versus
DBS. If we don't tell them who's better, who will?" he asked.
Rich said he is talking to cable networks about
contributing to the event, and he suggested a number of "behind-the scenes"
looks that they could provide for their best-known programs.
In addition, he said, local systems would have five minutes
of time for their own image spots, local events, special offers and potential ad sales.
Rich said the Customer Appreciation Night telecast would be
similar in feel to the live, telethon-style events that Rich Heritage has staged for
pay-network previews with MSOs such as Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications Inc. and
Rich Heritage will produce the event, he said, and
participating operators will share the production and programming costs.