Operators Try to Get Creative

Chicago— With basic-cable penetration at an all-time high, operators must continue to find ways to show the growth Wall Street expects, executives at a National Show panel here said Tuesday.

Growth strategies include dish buy-back programs, better incentives for direct sales agents and stronger audits to track cable theft, in the hope of turning non-paying pirates into legitimate customers.

"When you have 77 percent penetration, it's a difficult job to keep direct sales people" if you pay them on a commission basis, said Time Warner Cable Syracuse division president Mary Cotter.

Systems must pay higher commissions today to attract customers who've never connected to cable, she added.

Selling cable to formerly illegal customers is relatively easy, Charter Communications Inc. eastern division senior vice president of operations Dave McCall said.

Cotter's division is running about a 35 percent rate among its illegal connections, she said. "It's the other 65 percent we worry about. When we find them a second time, we're not so nice."