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Cable Operators

Capital Gains in D.C.

7/20/2007 8:06 PM Eastern

Cable operators know they’re competing for consumers’ video, online and telephone dollars, so there won’t be a lot of talk at the CTAM Summit about getting past a monopolist mentality when it comes to marketing.

“It’s all competitive,” Time Warner Cable chief marketing officer Sam Howe said. What marketers need now, he said, are “tools in order to compete better.”

Howe and Wonya Lucas, The Weather Channel’s general manager, are co-chairs of the marketing conference being held Monday through Wednesday at the Washington, D.C., Convention Center. It’ll be a conference that draws on its surroundings, highlighting in part the opportunities for cable operators and networks in the transition to digital TV broadcasting, organizers said.

The summit, as is its purpose, will be focused on presenting new ideas and approaches to marketers at cable networks and operators, and at tackling the big topics facing their businesses, notably the shift of viewing to digital and online media.

“We stay pretty true to our roots about marketing education and focused on the issues that our members care about,” Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing CEO Char Beales said.

Source: CTAM
2008: Nov. 9-11, Hynes Convention Center, Boston
2009: Oct. 25-27, Denver
2010: Oct. 17-19, New Orleans
2011: Oct. 23-25, Boston
2012: Oct. 14-16, Orlando, Fla.
2013: Oct. 6-8, New Orleans
2014: Oct. 26-28, Boston

FOUR THEMES

Combining those missions, CTAM is making cable’s role in the transition from analog TV broadcasting to digital broadcasting by February 2009 a central topic of discussion, as it was last year. Digital-TV customers are high-margin customers for cable operators, after all.

In fact, cable’s D.C.-based lobbying group, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, will piggyback on the summit, giving out a new award it has created to a pair of elected officials who helped form the Digital Television Congressional Caucus and have advocated for more consumer education about the transition.

The NCTA and CTAM “are playing lead roles in organizing a consumer education campaign about the digital transition,” NCTA communications vice president Brian Dietz said in explaining the association crossover. NCTA CEO Kyle McSlarrow will present the “Consumer Champion Award” for leadership in educating consumers about the transition to Reps. Rick Boucher (D.-Va.) and Greg Walden (R.-Ore.) during the opening general session on Tuesday (July 24).

The digital transition falls into one of the summit’s four main themes as outlined by Howe and Lucas: namely, digital products that will affect the business outlook from now to 18 months from now.

“These are the next revenue gainers or transitions that people need to be aware of,” Howe said. “Everything from home security … to things that are possibly going to get distributed digitally, on the web more than not.”

Other themes:

Business changes on the horizon beyond 18 months (next-generation trends);

Brand marketing, such as how Dove and Cisco Systems campaigns are going about establishing images for themselves in the consumer and business marketplaces, respectively;

Relationship marketing, or meeting customers’ needs based on knowledge of them, rather than just pushing services based on the sellers’ priorities.

An example of the last theme, Lucas said, will be a keynote by Harrah’s Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman, and the customer reward program that casino owner implemented.

The summit also will feature a case study about Harrah’s, “and then we’ll have a session that’s really about customer loyalty and retention,” Lucas said. That helps attendees apply the lessons learned to their business.

EVOLUTION & ANALYTICS

Cable operators, in particular, have grown so big and sell so many products in competitive arenas that their marketing staffs have had to evolve, and that’s a challenge to summit planners, the co-chairs said.

“We have specialists, people who expect to come to work with other marketers who know what 'analytics’ are,” Howe, of Time Warner Cable, said. “It’s not analysis, it’s a certain kind of manipulation of databases and insight around customers. There are a lot of generalists [in cable] who’ve been around for a while who are trying to catch up on notions around analytics. And there are a lot of analytics people who want greater depth, or even general knowledge, about cable because they might have come from magazines.”

“Or they want to operate at 100,000 feet versus down and dirty in the analytics,” Lucas continued. “They want to take the opportunity to be strategic, or to hear people who are being strategic, in a case study or even a keynote speaker.”

The summit always has keynote speakers from outside cable. Besides Loveman of Harrah’s, this year’s lineup includes Circuit City CEO Phil Schoonover; Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide vice chairman Steve Hayden (Dove and Cisco’s ad maker and creator of Apple’s famous “1984” commercial); and Streative Branding CEO Shari Swan, known for “street level” campaigns on behalf of brands like Nike and Estée Lauder, organizers said.

Schoonover, in particular, might be on the receiving end of advice from the cable marketers, in addition to delivering it. Summit organizers said that Circuit City and other retailers have suffered from people bringing back expensive high-definition TV sets because of unhappiness with HDTV programming or lack of it. “He needs to figure out a better set of partnerships” than the satellite-TV firms retailers have typically aligned with, Beales said.

Time Warner Inc.chief operating officer Jeff Bewkes will receive the Grand Tam Award and participate in the morning general session on Tuesday, interviewed by CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien. “Programmers want more out of the conference,” Howe said. “We’re giving it to them, especially in the form of a Jeff Bewkes, who came from that discipline [at HBO] but also presides over a (cable system operator). He also has seen a lot about the digital edge and he’ll be a key part of pulling it all together.”

The closing general session on Wednesday features two CEOs of big cable firms: Time Warner Cable’s Glenn Britt and Charter Communications’ Neil Smit. Also on that panel: HDNet chairman Mark Cuban, The Weather Channel Cos.’ CEO Debora Wilson and ESPN president George Bodenheimer.

Surprisingly, given how cable operators continue to consolidate (Adelphia Communications was absorbed into Comcast and Time Warner Cable last year), attendance is tracking ahead of last year’s figure of 2,600 for the event in Boston. CTAM CEO Char Beales said she’s expecting 2,700 for this event, right in the middle of a 10-year attendance range of 2,400 to 3,000. Still, event planners added two hotels to the official list last week because Monday nights’ rooms at convention hotels had sold out, Beales said.

Wyclef Jean will perform at the conference’s party on Tuesday night, at a D.C. nightclub called Love.

September