Skip to main content

TCI Exec: Look to Beer and Sneakers

Dick Franklin, senior vice president of Tele-Communications
Inc.'s Central Division, believes the beer, sneaker and supermarket businesses offer
cable operators shining examples of how to be more responsive to customers.

Franklin, formerly an executive at Reebock International
and Coors Brewing Co., before joining TCI two and a half years ago, drew the analogies in
a wide-ranging speech exploring the future of cable television before the National
Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors in Denver last week.

In his speech, Franklin stressed the importance of the
retail concept of "shelf space" for cable operators. And, in an appeal to the
assembled municipal officials, he described both operators and franchise officials as
"retail store managers [with a] responsibility for optimal shelf space."

He emphasized the importance of "quantitative customer
data and strategic alignment on both our parts." One example of how operators and
franchise officials could work together, he suggested, would be a "joint
ascertainment study as part of a renewal process."

In both his speech and a separate interview, Franklin
stressed the imporatance of data and research, drawing on his background at Reebock and

For example, he cited the beverage industry's shift
from regional to micro branding and marketing, pointing out that when he worked at Coors,
the beer company's extensive research split the Chicago market into 14 different
demographic units that helped the company determine shelf-space allocation for its

Cable, he said, should follow suit and analyze program
ratings in greater detail. Pointing to USA Networks' recent ratings coup for Moby
, he said, "In the packaged goods industry, that 8.6 rating [sic] would be
dissected into two dozen different market demos."

Franklin also cited the success of the athletic-shoe
business in creating a variety of product categories that allowed shoe companies to
position different types of shoes to specific target markets.

Cable, he said, must also be more responsive to market

"There isn't one channel lineup for
everybody," Franklin said.

As an example, he said TCI recently put Comedy Central back
in its lineup in response to local demographics and demand, especially for South Park.
But the scatological show "may not be as compelling in Tulsa, Okla.," he noted.

Franklin did give cable operators credit for catching up to
other competitive industries by doing more focus groups and customer surveys.

"I think you're seeing a natural evolution toward
decentralization by segmenting the customer base," he said.

As an example, he cited TCI's "new sensitivity to
Spanish-speaking customers."

Cable systems, he noted, could no longer afford to ignore
the Spanish-speaking audience, one of its fastest-growing subscriber segments in terms of
population and income.

Three years ago, Franklin said, most marketing materials
were still being printed only in English. Now, he continued, TCI is translating promotions
into Spanish not just literally, but culturally as well.

"The important thing," he said, "is that
we're beginning to recognize these differences and internalize them as a

Again, he cited package-goods marketing as leading the way
in recognizing subtle but imporant cultural distinctions.

Coors, he said, would run an English and a Spanish version
of the same beer commercial. On first glance, he said, it appeared that only the language
was different. "But if you looked at the commercial again," Franklin pointed
out, "you saw that people were dressed differently, that the beat and the tempo of
the music were different and that even the way the people in the spot addressed each other
was different. Cable is making progress, but we've still got a way to go."