Despite New Ventures, Cable Gets Wake-Up Call

Many cable companies, especially the big ones, see happy days again after suffering a stall where TV subscriber growth seemed to reach saturation point and DBS threatened to provide some competition (although it, too, seems to have reached its own plateau at about 15 percent). Cable's mostly successful forays into bro
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Many cable companies, especially the big ones, see happy days again after suffering a stall where TV subscriber growth seemed to reach saturation point and DBS threatened to provide some competition (although it, too, seems to have reached its own plateau at about 15 percent).

Cable's mostly successful forays into broadband, DTV, and now VoIP, have given the medium a few things to crow about this decade. Stock prices are up (and if you're Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, you just got another $2 million tacked onto your pay package).

The fact, too, that cable appears destined to be the primary provider of HD and digital VOD in the United States seems to indicate that the industry once harshly maligned for its customer service (or the lack, thereof) has finally turned the corner and is finally being appreciated in the American home at up to three junctures--the TV set, the wired phone and the computer.

But not so fast, says a top cable exec.

At the recent Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM) in Philadelphia, published reports indicate the cable industry has at least two big stumbling blocks yet to overcome: 1) cable does not know how to market digital VOD, HD and other media that do not fit neatly into traditional advertising models; 2) more urgently, local cable operators continue to be justifiably plagued by a reputation for poor customer service.

Ad agency CEO Shelly Lazarus of Ogilvy & Mather said at CTAM that despite years of trying to overcome an image of bad service, cable operators continue to anger their subscribers. One of those subscribers is Lazarus. She currently subscribes to two cable firms--Time Warner Cable in New York and Comcast in Colorado-- and said she feels as though she's imposing whenever she calls a cable customer service office.

"If I were going to do one thing right now, I would do something with everybody who answers the telephone for you," Lazarus told the cable execs, according to published reports. "All the advertising in the world cannot make up for a lousy customer experience."