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DTV Shift Needs Talking Up

11/14/2008 7:00 PM Eastern

You can’t over-communicate the message when it comes to the digital television transition, say executives who have made the jump or experimented with a drop of analog, for a portion of “people out there really do live under rocks.”

Kim Cannon, VP and general manager of Time Warner Cable’s system in Wilmington, N.C., the test market for digital transition in September, noted that despite the tonnage of spots, local events and other messaging about the transition, 18% of over-the-air households, or 2,500 people, called the Federal Communications Commission with problems after the change-over date. Five percent of those 2,500 said they didn’t know about the transition.

Her advice to other operators: don’t plan DTV informational events, “people won’t come.” The system had a DTV event, co-sponsored by Retirement Living TV, and seniors came only because “we bribed them with lunch,” she joked. Instead, target dedicated events likes fairs and festivals.

Plan repetitive training, she added, and a mystery call program. The latter revealed early in the Wilmington process that some customer service representatives were confused and giving out incorrect information, and were not doing a good job of selling callers on additional outlets. Some customers will assume the transition is the operator’s idea, she added, so provide CSRs with good responses and explanations of the benefits of the transition.

Cannon would not specify the number of customers the system picked up in the transition, but she did say 86% were hard-core “nevers.” The majority of those signed up for expanded basic, responding to an offer of 12 months of service for $39.95 a month. Half of the new units were ordered after the transition date, she noted, advising other operators to keep an offer in the market for a few months after the transition.

Insight Communications is in the midst of its DTV informational effort, added Gregg Graff, senior VP of field operations. The operator is mailing information every two weeks to nevers, identified by CTAM and Prizm demographic information.

The operator has created an offer for these homes: basic cable for $15 for 12 months, plus $40 in “cable cash,” meant to neutralize the draw of the government’s converter coupons. Another offer pairs basic cable with unlimited telephone service for $45. Insight is experiencing double the response for the $45 offer that it is getting for the $15 basic cable, he said.

Insight’s Louisville, Ky., market tested digital broadcasting on Sept. 3. Consumers who “failed” the conversion test were directed to a toll-free number, sponsored by Insight, where they could navigate through recorded answers to their questions, and opt into a transfer of their call to the cable provider, he said.

Both executives said consumers will wait until the last minute to act, so call centers should be well staffed.

September