Time Warner Execs Put on a Show


New Orleans -- Mostly undisturbed by news of the News Corp.-DirecTV Inc.
deal, CTAM Digital Conference attendees were entertained by conga-line-strutting
Time Warner Cable executives and enlightened by Wall Street-focused

Aided by such props as actors playing a family and an abusive talking TV set,
Charles Ellis, Time Warner Cable's executive vice president and chief marketing
officer, and two other executives play-acted an overview of the MSO's
"Anything's Possible" campaign to "demolish the dish" with on-demand video
services and customer-choice options.

Research with cable and satellite customers convinced the cable operator that
"we had to change. We had to put our customers more in control."

That translated to video-on-demand and subscription-VOD rollouts,
digital-video-recording set-tops and other on-demand services, he said.

Time Warner Cable is also working harder on improving customer care (Ellis
mentioned spending $50 million on tools and support for front-line staffers) and
communicating cable's network-services advantages over direct-broadcast

To the last point, Ellis and company previewed some new, well-produced,
humorous commercials meant to convey "living in the moment." Basically, cable
subscribers envision "dire consequences" -- such as young children running away
from home -- that would result from watching live TV instead of helping with

Ellis -- whose presentation was apparently constrained by "quiet-period"
restrictions on Time Warner Cable's planned initial public offering -- also said
the MSO would soon introduce "destination tiers" of high-definition

He did not spell out what that meant, but marketers at the conference said it
likely meant that the MSO would soon offer pay HDTV services on top of current
free offerings.

Julie Simon, the MSO's senior director of advanced technology, also
demonstrated a planned new offering called "Answers on Demand" -- video
tutorials explaining how to use on-demand services. That's going to be
introduced widely "in a few months," Simon said.

The highly scripted presentation had attendees buzzing. Most seemed to enjoy
the razzle-dazzle, but one commented that it was a little more self-promotional
than one might expect from Time Warner Cable or a Cable & Telecommunications
Association for Marketing conference.

Later, during a Wall Street-themed panel, one well-known media analyst found
an encouraging aspect for cable from News Corp.'s announced $6.6 billion deal to
buy control of leading U.S. satellite-TV provider DirecTV.

The fact that News Corp. paid so much for DirecTV means that chairman Rupert
Murdoch has more of an investment to protect, and he might be less willing to
slash retail prices sharply, Salomon Smith Barney Inc. managing director Niraj
Gupta opined.

He'll be less able to simply forego profits in favor of building market
share, Gupta said.

David Watson, executive vice president of sales, marketing and customer
service at Comcast Corp.'s cable unit, took the News Corp. report in stride.

DirecTV is already a tough competitor, featuring exclusive National Football
League programming, and EchoStar Communications Corp. is a fierce rival with
low-price packaging. Cable basically has to keep improving its offerings and
exploit whatever technical advantages it has over DBS, he said.

CTAM officials said that as of Wednesday, 1,100 people were at the four-day
conference. Last year's version of the show, in Los Angeles, drew 1,263