Seizing the Broadband Opportunities

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For the past several months we've been engaged in planning the Cable & Telecommunication Association for Marketing's Broadband Opportunity Conference. This year the committee decided to examine — using the cable lens — both the sales and marketing of high-speed Internet service (since that is the main broadband platform deployed today), and we decided to take a hard look at the exciting content that is being developed for the medium.

The challenge of understanding the many broadband opportunities available today and, subsequently, capitalizing on those opportunities certainly warrants additional attention from all industry professionals.

We discovered right away that one of the challenges in studying the broadband world is that "broadband" means different things to different people. We decided the term should be used as an adjective to describe distribution systems capable of the efficient two-way transmission of large streams of data or to describe the enhanced interactive content enabled by those systems. Having said that, here is our view of the potential of the broadband platform.

Today, high-speed Internet services — such as cable modem, digital subscriber line and satellite — delivered to the personal computer are enabled by the broadband platform. But this is only the beginning. Looking ahead just a bit, developing technology will soon enable enhanced communications and exciting new forms of broadband content to be distributed throughout the networked home to television sets, personal computers, hand held PDAs and even to home security systems.

It's widely recognized that the cable industry has a superior high-speed information delivery system and platform with the hybrid fiber-coaxial network. And this is not just the "cable guys" tooting our horn. A recent consumer survey conducted by Harris for CTAM found that 80 percent of cable-modem customers were very satisfied with the service, significantly higher than the satisfaction ratings given by both DSL (65 percent) and dial-up (52 percent) subscribers.

Clearly, cable customers truly value their service and the marketing has just begun. The challenge now is to significantly increase penetration in a dynamic, fluid and ever-changing competitive marketplace. It is time for cable operators to carefully evaluate the marketing messages that will increase high-speed Internet penetration beyond the early adopters. This will require increased understanding of customer purchasing patterns, precise message development and aggressive sales.

Cox's high-speed Internet service is a success among competitive broadband services because of its reliability, speed and value. Its always-on connection is the most convenient way to access information on the Internet.

But there is also a service message here. Unfortunately, there are still stories floating around about installation delays, technical problems and service glitches. The high satisfaction with the product demonstrates that cable has come a long way, but it cannot rest in its efforts to achieve 99.99 percent reliability.

Marketers also have an essential role to play in shaping the development of home networking, advanced set-tops and other broadband platform-based services. The mandate is to be the voice of the customer to the development community and to ensure that together programmers and operators develop customer-based products so all can profit.

BROADBAND TECHNOLOGY: NOW AND LATER

Now, more than ever, broadband technology will play a significant role in the nation's communications future.

The broadband platform is a true enabler of new and exciting services in both communications and entertainment, marrying the visual power of television with the personalization and on-demand nature of the Internet. Real-time access to information already is making a profound impact on broadband users.

Multichannel News
reported that when New York City law enforcement lost its phone and data lines in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Time Warner Cable was there on Sept. 12 to wire 1 Police Plaza with high-speed Internet connections.

Broadband capability is generating a new level of excitement among programmers, operators and vendors because of the pace of competition in this space. The Internet is allowing us to distribute early-stage broadband products to customers, and we are learning a tremendous amount about what consumers want to watch — and would be willing to pay for. Marketers are also learning how to effectively promote broadband products in a very cluttered environment. Indeed, it's the seemingly limitless potential in broadband application and content that's worth getting excited about.

That's why the program networks and other content providers — and the software developers working with them — have an equally important challenge. We need to evaluate the early lessons and aggressively develop new forms of programming, as well as the subscription, advertising and commerce-oriented business plans that will ensure profitability.

Since the ultimate benefit of broadband platforms combines the advanced technical capabilities with content, programmers and operators must work together to speed adoption and increase revenue.

BROADBAND CONTENT

In today's world on personal computers and tomorrow's world on every screen in the home, broadband technology enables rich and engaging content. We have only begun to scratch the surface of this powerful technology. Cable operators and content providers presently have an opportunity to leverage strong branded content to reach the mainstream — which will drive high-speed Internet penetration, open the door for fully converged services, and create a platform that will revolutionize programming and advertising.

Going forward, the industry needs to create more compelling content and introduce other services that are easy to get and easy to use and that continue to drive rapid adoption — giving consumers a reason to subscribe or to pay more for all of our products. Today's high-speed Internet sales come mainly from customers who want fast access to an Internet service that is always on. But the key to long-term profitability for all industry players will be based on the cool content that the broadband platform enables.

For example, ESPN is providing sports news, information, expert analysis, commentary, advertising, commerce and community-building opportunities to sports fans through the broadband platform. The area of sports is a simple illustration of how broadband technology enables cable professionals to bring valuable services to consumers. This is just one example. Every other network has similar opportunities that we can maximize by working together.

Which brings us back to the Broadband Opportunity Conference. Our committee of dedicated cable operators, programmers and other broadband converts has developed an agenda that brings together the most successful high-speed Internet marketers with some of the most forward-thinking content developers. In the best CTAM tradition, we will join together to examine consumer behavior, share key lessons and brainstorm on the future of our business. We look forward to seeing you there.

Sean Bratches, executive vice president affiliate sales and marketing for ESPN, and Joe Rooney, vice president marketing for Cox Communications, are the co-chairs of the CTAM Broadband Opportunity Conference being held in the Northern Virginia Tech Corridor, Tysons Corner, Va., next week.

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