Through The Wire: For the Last Time, Call DirecTv!


While executives were in Anaheim, Calif., discussingcustomer service at the Western Show, a vignette was transpiring one city over,demonstrating how cable can continue to shoot itself in the foot by pushing consumers intothe arms of competitors.

A homeowner in neighboring Villa Park, a former sub whodecided she missed cable, called the city to see who her operator is. Call Century Communications Corp., she was told. She dialed customer service and was toldbrusquely, "You're not our customer."   She double-checked withthe city, which reaffirmed Century serves all of Villa Park.

Rebuffed by the operator, the former sub's coworkersadvised her of her alternatives, including Pacific Bell Video Servicesand DirecTv, which she considered. "Now I'mhappy. At least I know what's out there," the customer told the Wire.

The story has a happy cable ending. A Century executivecalled a week later, offering an apology, free installation and one month's freebasic. The customer dropped her research on DBS and signed with Century.

This is the last slam on Anaheim, we promise ... One thingsure to be in demand at a show for telecom professionals is good communication services.  But executives all over the Western Show groused over the infrastructure inAnaheim's hotels.  One East Coast-based exec complained it took her 20minutes to get an outside line in the Disneyland Hotel so she could conduct businessbefore hitting the show floor.

Another target of enmity was the Radisson Hotel (a formerHoliday Inn and one of the oldest properties in the area), also a laggard in the dial-tonedepartment. Cell phones weren't an instant relief, because at peak times, the cellswere jammed, too. Perhaps facilities will be better next year, when the show moves to LosAngeles while the Anaheim Convention Center upgrade kicks into high gear.

So, who's the president at USA Networks?   Depending on whom you askthere, it's either

a) none of your business, or
b) Steve Brenner reports to Steven Chao.

It all started when a Wire reporter, looking for exacttitles for a story, asked the USA Nets operator last Wednesday who the president was. Theoperator refused to say, and shunted the reporter off to human resources and voice-mailhell. A USA spokeswoman was apologetic, blaming a new receptionist, saying thecompany's policy was to give out titles of senior VPs and above. We called the nextday, got HR -- identified ourselves -- and were told Chao and Brenner wereco-presidents, with Brenner reporting to Chao.

Friday morning, we had an outsider call to test thenetwork. She got HR again and was told, "We're not allowed to give out thatinformation. It's part of our corporate policy." A spokeswoman apologized --again -- and reassured us that Brenner and Chao were equals.

Has Webster's heard about this yet? Stan Weil,executive vice president for national ad sales at Knowledge TV, has come up with a newdemographic term to add to the ad world's lexicon. It's"active-graphic." In short, that describers viewers who are upscale, proactive,opinion-makers. You know, the type without recliner-cushion creases permanently imprintedon their butts. It will take time to see if Madison Avenue picks up on the term, but Weilwill use the potential buzzword in Knowledge's 1999 upfront pitches.

By Linda Haugsted from bureau reports