I spent some time during the National Show speaking to the large delegation of Japanese visitors who had come to see what the latest buzz was in the American cable industry. They come every year to compare, and take notes on the latest competitive trends. They are in a more difficult position than we are, since in Japan, the telephone industry has already built a new infrastructure for delivering video and data and the cable industry is playing catch-up. Here, on the other hand, we are the ones who have already built the infrastructure that the telcos wish they had. A much nicer position to be in. But as I listened to some of their ideas for how to compete, it became very clear that whichever position the cable folks are in, competition will force new attitudes and new attention to detail in order to win and keep customers. One idea that certainly hit home was ease of use, that is, the remote controls and the navigation tools. The Japanese delegation explained to me that their population is aging, and one of the things they are working on very hard is designing a remote control that is easy for that aging population to use. Now this is not a new idea to this column. I have been writing about this for some time. I am still waiting to see those wonderful voice-activated remotes hit the cable market. I sure hope they do, because the alternative is that they will be offered by our competitors (along with the other neat remote control/navigation systems that are still in the back rooms). One way or another it is not hard to hear the desire of consumers that they want better, easier navigation of the growing number of options we offer, from the sheer number of channels, to VOD, to DVR, it is getting over-whelming and the navigation tools we are offering now are simply not up to the task. I raised this issue with my cable provider when I got totally frustrated that the "on demand" listings for The Sopranos did not have enough space to tell which episode was which! Each one showed up on the screen in a list that said: "The Sopranos, Episo….." Now that, you have to admit, is worthless! Of course the real answer is to re-do the whole navigation system so you don’t have static lists with limited field spaces in the first place. But in the meantime, much to their credit, they did listen and have now changed the typed format so it says "The Sopranos 38" and so on. At least now the consumer can navigate. Ain’t great, but it’s better. They listened. I’ve also been told that a whole new navigation system is coming… but then again I’ve been told that for a very long time now. Time is not on our side. We have to listen to customers and respond before someone else hears what they are saying and satisfies their need before we do. It all starts with listening. Another example, and again, it appears someone has finally heard, is the whole issue of "bugs" on the bottom of the screen. DiscoveryHD, for one, has finally started fading out the bug so we can watch the full, beautiful picture. Nice move. We have to do a lot more of that, particularly on the service side. A lot of the things you might hear, if you listen, are not that hard to satisfy. The trick is to listen.