Summit Helps Marketers Balance Digital Demands

Author:
Publish date:
Updated on

New York-The Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing last week announced several additions to its lineup for the annual "CTAM Summit," scheduled for July 16 through 19 in Boston.

Fidelity Personal Investments president Gail McGovern will host the general session that CTAM devotes each year to a marketing executive outside of the telecommunications industry.

The association also announced that 15 companies would give new technology presentations during three "New Product Road Show" breakout sessions.

Summit co-chairmen Kevin Leddy, Time Warner Cable's senior vice president of new product development, and Bill Goodwyn, executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing at Discovery Networks U.S., chose "Digital Gold Rush" as the overall theme of the conference when it was in the planning stages last summer.

"Digital is coming into its own realm," Leddy said. "It's no longer theoretical. People are making money on it."

Time Warner, for example, has rebuilt nearly all of its cable plant to be capable of handling digital video, high-speed-data services and telephony, Leddy said.

The upgrades don't just bring new revenue opportunities. They also challenge MSO marketing executives to keep up with the fast-paced changes.

"It's hard enough getting digital video and Road Runner rolled out without keeping track of all of the new applications that are built on top," Leddy added.

Developing the CTAM Summit agenda requires a delicate balance of meeting the needs of both entry-level marketers at the cable-system level and seasoned industry veterans who might focus on only one side of the business, CTAM executives said last week.

To that end, the Summit boasts a mix of general sessions with broad appeal. Six tracks feature panels focused on specific areas of the business-new products, digital video, high-speed Internet, cable-marketing skills, programmer skills and telephony. More focused breakout sessions also allow marketers to gather in small groups.

The 15 companies chosen for the New Products Road Show went through a "rigorous RFP" (request for proposal) process, Goodwyn said, and were narrowed down from the 42 companies that sought to address the Summit.

"We didn't want seven video-on-demand providers, but an example of each technology," CTAM senior vice president

of marketing Seth Morrison said. "We had to say no to a lot of good companies."

One panel session, "The Battle for Bandwidth," will debate the best uses for cable spectrum, whether it's analog video, digital video, high-speed data or telephony. "You have to look at it from a 'reveHz,' or revenues-per-hertz perspective," Goodwyn said in an attempt to coin a new cable buzzword.

Whatever applications the cable bandwidth is ultimately used for, Discovery will be busy developing programming for them. Goodwyn said programmers today need to create content across a number of platforms, including analog and digital cable, enhanced television, hyperlinking to Web sites, high-speed broadband and virtual channels for electronic commerce.

Discovery has also started to develop high-definition television content, although it has not yet launched its own HDTV channel.

Goodwyn speculated that MSOs might choose not to devote much bandwidth to HDTV content from cable programmers if digital must-carry requirements are imposed.

But Leddy said Time Warner is reserving significant bandwidth for HDTV, and went so far as to say that the MSO would carry a Discovery Channel HDTV feed today, were the network to offer one. Time Warner already offers Home Box Office's HDTV channel in a select number of markets, as well as some local digital-broadcast feeds.

"I think consumers are going to love HDTV," Leddy said, adding, "I'm not sure what year they're going to love it."

At Time Warner, Leddy is responsible for building new product applications onto the MSO's digital-video platform.

For many of its digital-video and interactive-television applications, Time Warner is working with a number of competing product vendors. It has already announced deals with three VOD companies, for example, and is looking at the possibility of signing as many as four more. Multiple and competing applications are possible from a single cable company as long as there is a common layer that controls them, he added.

The MSO is not likely to develop its own VOD platform or other software applications, Leddy insisted.

"Cable operators don't write software, and we shouldn't pretend we write software," he said. "Look at our attempts over the years to create our own billing systems."

Instead, the MSO wants to create "a very open platform so we can buy technology from people who are really good at it," Leddy said. Time Warner will also look to its programmers to create some of the new applications for the MSO.

"That's why it's so important for programmers to come to the Summit," Goodwyn said.

The CTAM Summit's previously announced general- session keynote speakers will include Cox Communications Inc. president Jim Robbins, AT & T Broadband president Dan Somers and America Online Inc. president Bob Pittman.

Pittman's speech would be particularly timely, Leddy predicted, as AOL is set to launch its "AOL-TV" interactive-television service through the consumer-electronics distribution channel only a few weeks before the Summit.

Philips Consumer Electronics Co. will distribute a stand-alone AOL TV receiver this summer, and DirecTV Inc. also plans an integrated AOL TV/direct-broadcast satellite service later this year.

Time Warner doesn't have any big rollout plans for AOL TV yet, Leddy said, although AOL-which announced plans to merge with Time Warner early this year-"is eager to get AOL-TV on cable," he admitted.

Former Fox Family Channel executive Rich Cronin will moderate a panel during the Summit's closing brunch-a role he held at last year's Summit, as well.

"We don't care where he works," CTAM president Char Beales said in confirming Cronin's Summit role just one day after news broke of Cronin's exit from Fox Family.

Related