Trying to determine how to sell a slew of new products while protecting the basic-video customer base has left cable executives with their hands full.
But although some executives see cable's 2002 marketing environment as a challenge, the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing sees it as an opportunity to create value for its members by educating them about best practices and new technologies at its annual CTAM Summit in Boston (July 14 to 17).
"The timing is so right in the industry," said CTAM president Char Beales. "There are so many pressing issues right now."
CTAM Summit co-chair Katherine Lewis, senior vice president of strategic market planning for Cablevision Systems Corp., said her company's biggest challenge this year is finding the right way to market several new products — such as video-on-demand, subscription VOD and Internet-protocol telephony — at the same time.
"They're not just new to us, but new, period," Lewis said. "You have to get the customer to understand what they are" before cable operators can get consumers excited enough to buy them.
As a programmer, fellow CTAM Summit co-chair Eric Kessler, executive vice president of marketing for Home Box Office, has to contend with Cablevision's challenges.
"Our challenge is to keep operators focused on premium television, because they have so much to sell," said Kessler.
TRACKING NEW SERVICES
Recognizing the increasing pressures faced by cable's marketers, CTAM has created sessions that focus both on customer retention within the core business and how to introduce subscribers to new technologies, including high-speed Internet access, digital cable and high-definition television.
Key speakers on the HDTV track will include HDNet chairman Mark Cuban, Discovery Communications Inc. CEO John Hendricks and National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Robert Sachs.
"The philosophy in the business has been, 'If we build it, they will come,' " said Kessler. "Now the technology is built, and we have to figure out how to clarify these [new technologies] to consumers."
Although Kessler is struggling to keep operators focused on such core competencies as signing up new HBO customers, the company also continues to forge ahead with new products of its own. It has deployed the HBO on Demand SVOD product with several of the top MSOs. And last week, Kessler also disclosed plans to launch Cinemax on Demand with Time Warner Cable.
Responding to past attendee surveys, CTAM decided this year to raise its educational sessions beyond the "marketing 101" level in order to better suit the needs of people who have been in the business for a while.
"In an era of cost-cutting, this conference has to look like something that will really be worthwhile," Lewis said.
CTAM has a tradition of bringing marketing experts from outside the cable industry to the Summit to share their insights with attendees. This year, former Coca-Cola Co. chief marketing officer Sergio Zyman will give the keynote speech. And customer-loyalty expert Fred Reichheld, director emeritus of Bain & Co., will discuss retention efforts.
"That's been one of our biggest challenges in the cable industry," Lewis said. "We're at a point where we can't ignore it any longer because the competition is so strong."
Summit attendees who register before June 14 are eligible for early-bird discounts. After that, Beales said, CTAM will have a better gauge on attendance projections. CTAM's goal is to lure 2,500 attendees, matching the Summit's total last year when it was held in San Francisco, Beales said.