DBS Ads Aim at Adelphia

Los Angeles cable operators — bombarded by an aggressive wave of direct-broadcast satellite advertising — last week said they'll stay focused on their strategic objectives, rather than get drawn into the fray.

Over the past two weeks, DirecTV Inc. has blanketed the market with newspaper ads and radio spots in peak drive times, targeting customers of troubled Adelphia Communications Corp. with a discounted two-room DBS system.

In one ad that hit the Los Angeles Times
last week, the headline read, "Satisfied with Adelphia Cable? We Didn't Think So." It went on to advise readers to "Get DirecTV service now, and say good-bye to cable."

Some Los Angelenos have said they've also received outbound telemarketing — or cold calls to prospective customers — from representatives for EchoStar Communications Corp.'s Dish Network.

Recorded messages played up Adelphia's bankruptcy crisis and pitched DBS service.

As a company, EchoStar does not conduct outbound telemarketing, spokesman Marc Lumpkin said.

"We do not call out to new prospective customers and leave automated messages," he said.

Lumpkin had not heard whether any of Dish's Southern California retailers were conducting their own telemarketing campaigns, but he said the company allows them to do so as long as they don't violate any laws.

"We also ask retailers to make sure what they're saying is truthful," Lumpkin said.

The recent DBS pitches that target cable customers "make total sense to me," said Glen Friedman, president of Los Angeles-based Ideas & Solutions Inc. "It's always been an attractive market."

The DMA is even more enticing, now that DBS offers over-the-air Los Angeles stations, and because Adelphia has halted its system rebuilds there, he added.

But there's still a question of how the campaign will resonate with consumers, said Friedman.

"I don't know whether this interrupts inertia or not," he said. Adelphia's customers are still receiving service at the same level as before the bankruptcy filing.

Adelphia corporate spokes-man Stuart Fischer said the MSO would continue to communicate cable's competitive advantages over DBS, which include freedom from rain fade and line-of-sight issues that plague some satellite customers.

"Through advertising, direct mail, promotions and marketing, Adelphia continues to educate and inform consumers in Southern California — and around the country — that cable is a more reliable, technologically superior and cost-competitive alternative to satellite," Fischer said.

The Adelphia spokesman also said the company has access to hundreds of millions of dollars in financing and cash flow that will allow it to continue to operate smoothly and provide programming to its customers. The cash will also allow Adelphia to continue upgrades to enable new programming and advanced services.

"We continue to challenge satellite providers's outlandish claims," Fischer said.

The cable industry's Los Angeles Marketing Co-op has implemented its own anti-DBS strategy for the past two years, and has no plans to tailor it in direct response to the recent anti-Adelphia ads, according to cooperative president Paula Dowd. She is also vice president of marketing for AT&T Broadband's Southern California division.

"We know they're there," Dowd said of the DBS company's aggressive tactics, "but we don't want to be knee-jerked out of what our long-term objectives are."

As a group, cable operators in Southern California are focused on launching new products such as video-on-demand, subscription VOD and interactive television, Dowd added.

"The smartest thing we can do is deliver on the promise of broadband," Dowd said.