Survey: Satellite Has Savvier Subs

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Satellite-television companies might be doing a better job than cable providers in educating consumers about what advanced services are offered.

A new survey by Dove Consulting, a Boston-based research firm, indicates that, among all multichannel television subscribers polled, satellite customers were more likely to be aware that they have the access to features such as the ability to customize their set-top (change graphics colors, for example), use an interactive program guide or access on-demand programming.

In fact, satellite service users had statistically higher awareness of seven of the 11 advanced features on which they were polled, said Bob Davis, managing director of the broadband practice for Dove.

DIGITAL IS KEY

According to Davis, awareness levels were more comparable between satellite users and digital-cable homes, nearly even when data from analog homes were excluded. Davis said that draws attention to the “critical need” for operators to get digital cable set-top boxes into all homes.

The survey was conducted with the aid of a third-party consumer survey firm, which pushed the questionnaire to its e-mail list and got respondents to fill out the query by offering a sweepstakes entry to all who finished the multi-question survey.

Dove received 1,491 responses in the survey conducted via computer, which was designed to determine how consumers learn about the features of products including cable, satellite, cellular phones and digital cameras. Atlantic Broadband, Comcast Corp. and Insight Communications Co. were among the companies underwriting the survey, Dove said.

On the topic of video, 11 advanced services were listed: expanded services, premium channels, on demand, exclusive programming, digital video recorders, HDTV, digital music, interactive program guides, interactive services, text messages to the home from the set-top and customizability. Consumers were asked to tick off each of the services they believed their provider offered.

ON-DEMAND KNOWLEDGE

The results indicate that satellite services might better inform their clientele of a variety the features enabled by the home equipment. Satellite homes were even aware of on-demand service at levels comparable to cable homes, even though cable providers would argue satellite doesn't offer true on-demand services, Davis noted.

Among cable homes, consumers tend to become aware of features by talking to neighbors or friends; or may hunt up a feature when they discover they have a need for it.

Because of this lack of knowledge, when consumers realize they have certain functionalities, they tend to call their cable company when they want to learn how to use a feature. This adds to call-center traffic and is not the result preferred by cable operators (customer service representatives should be selling new services, not instructing customers on current ones) or by consumers, who prefer a “low-risk, trial-and-error” way of discovering for themselves how to use a feature, Davis noted.

“Calling in is not the preferred method. The information they get is only as good as the training provided to the CSR or the information on their desktop,” said Davis. Dove's cable clients have noted how difficult it is to get information out internally and uniformly on all products to CSRs through field contractors.

Consumers want information on how to experiment with new features without incurring a charge and without altering their in-home equipment.

HOW TO GET INFO OUT

Davis said product information is the key to adoption, consumer loyalty and price elasticity, though providing those instructions to the home is an “interesting challenge.”

In the early, video-only days of cable, the problem was handled with a simple leave-behind, an instruction manual. But with today's multi-product bundle, such a manual would have to be updated frequently “and that could be an expensive proposition,” Davis noted.

Operators could experiment with allowing consumers to download product information from their Web sites or by devoting part of their on-demand bandwidth to product tutorials, he suggested.

The survey raises new questions for product providers, Davis said.

“To be perfectly honest, we're not sure what this all means. This is a good first step” to discovering how to appropriately educate consumers, he said. “If we can figure out how to educate the consumer, it will drive down call center volume, cut truck rolls and leave time to sell to others.”

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