CTAM: “Power to the People”

Consumer control was the mantra at the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM) annual summit in Washington last week.

Most panels focused on CTAM's “Power to the People” theme and the industry's ever-changing business models in a media world where the mobilization of content has given consumers more options than ever.

“The core idea was, it's about the democratization of media,” says CTAM President/CEO Char Beals. “The consumer's in more control, and it's impacting all of our businesses. How we focus in on that is the challenge of the day.”

The show, which drew about 2,750 attendees, featured separate panels on digital products, with sessions about branding, moving content across multiple screens, and reaching new consumers in user-generated spaces.

Speakers from other industries enlightened the cable faithful with lessons on their own businesses' challenges. Harrah's Chairman/CEO/President Gary Loveman spoke on the importance of marketing differently to individual consumers based on their loyalty and pay scale. Citing the dramatic turnaround that he spearheaded at Harrah's through “relationship marketing,” he said his team works like “epidemiologists,” learning as much as possible about individual consumers and trying to predict their future behavior based on past choices.

“God may have created all people equally; she did not create all customers equally,” he said. “We treat everybody differently. The cable-television industry is at pains to treat everybody the same. Somebody has to decide it's OK to treat customers differently depending on their current and prospective value.”

Circuit City Stores Chairman/President/CEO Phil Schoonover spoke about adapting to changing technology by investing in staff training and embracing new sales models. He cited as an example his stores' partnership with Ethan Allen to sell Circuit City HD TV sets in stores that sell furniture to fit them.

One of the cable industry's own biggest stars, Time Warner President/COO Jeff Bewkes, preached about cable's power to expand through growing video-on-demand (VOD).

“People would rather have free networks whenever they want,” he said, predicting that the model of free, ad-supported networks on-demand would trump a pay-per-show model because viewers are accustomed to advertising.

Bewkes emphasized that the technology to allow such widespread on-demand offerings is already here. The biggest stumbling block, he said, lies in show producers' agreeing on rights to distribute shows on VOD.

About a third of the attendees at this year's gathering hailed from cable operators, some 40% were cable-network marketers, and the rest were a mix from technology companies, ad agencies and others.

Brand Marketing

This year, CTAM made a concerted effort to focus panels on networks' brand marketing in response to requests from its members. A session titled “One Brand, Many Platforms” included marketing chiefs from FX and ESPN; one called “Revolution and Evolution in Network Branding” featured marketing lessons from Hallmark and USA.

“For me, CTAM was an opportunity to talk about the brand change and the results we've had to operators and fellow marketers,” said USA Networks Senior VP of Marketing Chris McCumber, who was attending his first summit. He spoke on USA's “Characters Welcome” branding and its impact on the network, including bringing in new advertisers.

“The network marketer's world has gotten so complicated with all the multiple screens they have to figure out,” says Beals, “so they want to get together to talk about it.”

Cable's Role in Digital Transition

CTAM also capitalized on its D.C. locale by inviting Congressmen to talk about television's looming transition to digital on Feb. 17, 2009. Two U.S. Representatives and National Cable and Telecommunications Association President/CEO Kyle McSlarrow urged operators to help broadcasters raise consumer awareness of the upcoming conversion to all-digital.

Said McSlarrow, “We have a responsibility to step up. This is not just a broadcaster issue.”