Cable is fighting competition on all fronts. It’s doing battle with satellite distributors, which have been gaining basic subs at a breakneck pace. It’s taking on telcos, which are readying fiber deployments for their own video/voice/data bundles. And it’s preparing for future competitors (will video on the Internet and cell phones take viewers away from cable?). This is the backdrop as cable meets in Philadelphia for the 2005 CTAM Summit. CableWORLD editor John Ourand checked in with the conference’s co-chairs, Comcast’s EVP, operations, Dave Watson and Disney & ESPN’s president, affiliate sales and marketing, Sean Bratches, to see how this year’s Summit will address these issues. CableWORLD: What’s going to be different about this year’s show? Dave Watson: It’s one Summit. This will be the first year where instead of a digital and broadband conference plus the Summit, we’re going to do everything with one significant, large gathering. CW: Explain the reasoning behind moving to one conference. Sean Bratches: This industry continues to evolve at a breakneck pace. Cable companies have evolved into telecommunications companies. Content companies are evolving from linear to divergent products that support platforms that companies like Comcast have invested significantly with risk capital to deploy. Everybody has to think differently these days. They’re asked to do more things. The prospect from a marketing standpoint has become much more complex and much more multi-platform driven. The bifurcation of the two conferences—linear and nonlinear—just didn’t make sense anymore. CW: I always look forward to seeing what the theme is at each Summit. "The Thrilla in Philla"…that could either be your handiwork, Dave, or yours, Sean. How did you arrive at that? Bratches: CTAM president and CEO Char Beales, CTAM VP, marketing Tania Jones, Dave and I spent some time talking about the direction of the conference. With the conference committee, we cobbled together a number of different themes. We engaged Wieden+Kennedy, Nike and ESPN’s agency of record, and came out with something that fits the location. Philadelphia is the city of record as it relates to boxing in the United States. But it also implicitly communicates that this is the preeminent conference in the sector. Thirdly, it does a nice job of reflecting the competitive market that we’re in. That’s a realization we deal with on a day in, day out basis, no matter what side of the table you sit on. Watson: We kept coming back to the whole nature of competition and the fact that we’re not just competing in the video space. We’re competing with high-speed data. There’s new disruptive technologies that makes competition interesting from a programmer’s standpoint. There’s never been the level of competition on multiple fronts that we’ve had before, so we felt that this reflected that situation. Bratches: And if you’re wondering, I could kick Watson’s ass. Watson: That’s been a recurring theme as well. CW: Are you serious? I’ve got a story here. Is this inside or outside of a ring? Bratches: No, no, no. I was just kidding around. Watson: You will have some fun with that, John. CW: Everything is on the record here. Speaking of competition, how frequently will Rupert Murdoch be referenced at the Summit? Watson: We’re going to home in on video competition. From the MSO side, there are great new services that we have to use to compete. The level of competition we have from satellite has never been tougher. Under the News Corp. ownership, we anticipate that life will get more complex. But it’s not just one front that we’re competing against. For the first time, you have aggressive competition coming from the telephone companies. This year is the first year that telcos have bundled satellite competition, and certainly they are talking about fiber. It’s competition at multiple levels that’s really the complicating part of competing in this new environment. Bratches: This is a reflection of the old adage that competition makes you better. The energies that are being put into the construction of this conference is an acknowledgement of that theme. CW: How did you pick the speakers for the Summit? Watson: First off, we’ve got Brian Roberts. It’s our hometown, and we wanted to make sure that Brian participated. CW: You don’t really have to explain why you picked Brian Roberts. Watson: We’re thrilled to have one of the preeminent people in the advertising space, Shelly Lazarus, chairman and CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. She’s going to speak to the overall brand and the impact of having multiple products going into the same household and what that means to developing your brand. Samsung’s SVP, consumer electronics, and North American corporate marketing Peter Weedfald is going to talk about innovation in the consumer electronics space and retail. What is it like to build world-class franchises? Jonathan Kraft and Brian France have two world-class franchises in the New England Patriots and NASCAR and will speak at the general session on Tuesday. The only squeamish part that I had in terms of this was bringing the New England Patriots into Philadelphia. I’ll make sure I place my calls to the Eagles well beforehand. Other than that, we’re thrilled with these keynote speakers. It’s a great lineup. Bratches: John Saunders is going to be the moderator. He’s a well-known sports commentator on both ESPN and ABC Sports. We’re trying to put together not only a compelling conference in terms of background but also in terms of diversity. CW: How is the city of Philadelphia going to be incorporated into this year’s Summit? Bratches: One thing that Dave and I feel strongly about, and one of the motivating factors to bring this to Philadelphia this year, is our belief that the industry was way too healthy. We’re planning on jamming Philadelphia cheesesteaks down everybody’s throats for a couple of days. Where are we going, Geno’s or Pat’s? Watson: Very competitive. CW: What does Comcast support: Geno’s or Pat’s? Watson: We support both…We’ll try to weave in some of the great heritage of Philadelphia during the evening. We’ll obviously give people opportunities to see some of the local history of Philadelphia. Tania Jones: We have a tour Sunday late morning. We’re working with the local chapter to arrange a tour for people who get in early that day to show them around the interesting highlights and bring them back to the convention center in time for the kickoff with the Mark Awards. Anne Cowen, CTAM VP, communications: John, I thought you were going to lead our 6 a.m. jog on the Rocky running map. CW: I’ll assign a reporter to that, Anne. Bratches: We’re having a golf tournament on Sunday as well at one of Philadelphia’s finest, Scotland Run. CW: Where is Rally in the Alley going to be this year? Jones: We’re doing that a little bit differently. Each of the networks likes to have their own evening. We’ll have just as many parties. But there won’t be the party with the multiple sponsors. CW: What are your personal favorite cities for hosting CTAM Summit? Bratches: I’ve always been a fan of Boston and San Francisco, in that order. Watson: They’re personal favorites of mine as well, given that they are great Comcast markets. My first Summit when I came over from wireless was in Boston. I thought it was just terrific. CW: Dave, how would you rate cable marketing today? Watson: It has improved. We still have a ways to go. When you fight competition on multiple fronts, you have to make choices around your resources. You have to make your resources work longer and harder. And you have to become more precise in terms of who your targets are and how you reach them. It’s improved over time. The investments that we made in the two-way platform have been a big help. The next level is to connect the dots between these great new products and cementing it into consumers’ mind-sets that we’re providing these great new products. So often we hear, "We love the products, but we’re not necessarily crazy about the cable company." Our goal is to change that. CW: How do you change that? Watson: It takes time, and it takes focus. You have to deal with it directly. You have to talk about why your products are different, why your products are better. We have great advantages. You just have to be consistent. That’s why we’re thrilled to bring Marvin Davis on board. (Davis was hired as SVP, marketing, in February.) He helped to build a world-class brand at Verizon Wireless, and we’re focused on doing the same thing at Comcast. CW: Sean, from a programmers perspective, how would you suggest that MSOs should market themselves against DBS and telcos? Bratches: You have to get beyond the world of commoditization, and you have to look at the distinguishing factors of your platform, your product, your customer service, your brand. You have to run up to the top of the Art Museum steps in Philadelphia and just scream. Generally speaking, if you scream the loudest and scream the most, your message tends to break through. The easy default moniker is that cable operators aren’t great marketers. That’s an anachronistic point of view. Unfortunately, it’s something that follows the industry as it matures. They’ve made extraordinary strides from personnel, philosophical and execution standpoints to drive their business. They’ve done it on the technological side. Now it’s the messaging. CW: Sean, ESPN is primarily a video service. Can you talk about how you’re working with operators to help promote their triple-play bundle, specifically high-speed data and telephony? Bratches: We have a robust and healthy magazine, we’ve got a leading Internet site with ESPN.com, we’re launching a wireless phone service, I could walk from my office and get a burger at an ESPN Zone, there are kids across the world playing ESPN video games. We spend a lot of time with our affiliates, Comcast included, using our brand and our relationship with our consumers to support the retention and acquisition of new products and services. We did a promotion with Comcast where if people buy digital cable, they get a free subscription to ESPN the Magazine. It adds value to the consumer; it provides a sales benefit for the cable company; and we get somebody reading our magazine who maybe otherwise wouldn’t. We give Comcast sales inventory in our clubhouses on ESPN.com, whether it’s the Eagles site in Philly or the Patriots site in New England. They can sell that on a local level and create integrated media packages for advertisers to continue to drive revenue, similar to what national networks like ESPN are doing with integrated buys to ESPN Radio, the magazine, dot-com and television. CW: Dave, how does Comcast use these tools? Watson: We want to do everything that we can do to prove our value, and talk about why our products are better. A great example is online. It’s not enough just to be the fastest and always on. It’s what you can do with this great, fast product. We are in a unique position because of our long-standing relationship with the programming community and ESPN. We’re really trying to improve the overall consumer experience and their value across all these platforms. These tools are important to all of us. CW: Dave, are you happy with the performance of CTAM’s Only Cable Can initiative so far? Watson: We think it’s an important part. It’s not the only part, obviously. Only Cable Can homes right in on the handful of products that we have that points out, uniquely, what the cable industry can do. It’s early and there’s a lot more that we can be doing. For the first phase of this, I am pleased. CW: What’s the next phase for that campaign? Watson: Without being precise, it’ll encompass product rollouts of video on demand, high-speed, high definition and, at some point in the future as we get more aggressive with phone, it’ll be phone. CW: Sean, how closely does ESPN work with Only Cable Can? Bratches: We’re aware of it. We support it. We support pretty much everything CTAM’s doing as it reinvents itself to be a consolidating entity for a fractured marketplace from on demand to retail to Only Cable Can. Watson: It has been particularly helpful giving the cable industry a unified front to the consumer electronics industry. That has been a way for us to be able go in together and coordinate broader media.