Yes, I know. Everything’s a mess. Don’t even look at your portfolio right now, and ignore all the finger-pointing about who is to blame… there’s plenty of blame to go around. But this melt-down on Wall Street may be a once-in-a-corporate or, indeed, industry lifetime opportunity for the cable industry if we are willing to think a little bit "outside the box."
I’m focusing here not on the overall financial crisis, the liquidity issues, the bank seize-up of credit. I’m relatively confident that massive, coordinated international action by governments will steady that ship. Instead, what I want to explore is our industry, how it has been run, what it can do now, and how it can potentially change the overall perception of what we do and why for many years to come.
We are perceived, like it or not, as rapacious. We are perceived, whether we are or not, as a "monopoly." We started out by doing the unthinkable: we charged for "free TV." Even in the middle of an absurd economic crisis, some politicians and regulators do not pass up the opportunity to decry cable rates.
Why? Because we’re doing something that’s central to the lives of most people in this country. We deliver television. Especially in these times, when belts are inevitably going to be tightened, we’re still going to be seen as a "necessity." For good reason. No matter what our price, we’re without question offering the best entertainment dollar around. When a movie for a family of four runs over $50 for a two-hour respite… when going to a professional sporting match can cost three or four times that much for a one-day outing… cable, delivering hundreds of channels of programming 24 hours a day, is a great deal.
We should make it even greater. Now. This is a unique time. Cable stocks have taken an even more severe hit than the overall market. The perception is that because we are a capital intensive business (any infrastructure is), the credit crunch will hurt us more. But that’s not totally accurate. We’ve already completed most of our rebuilds. We already have the asset in place. As a matter of fact, if anything, this crunch assures that our asset will likely be the predominant, most advanced video delivery infrastructure for some time to come!
The opportunity now is to improve our perceived position with our customers and assure that we maintain and cement the position of the preferred deliverer of voice, video and data. How? Give our customers the ability to lower their bills during this crisis of confidence.
The "bundles" offered to new customers should be opened up to everyone. The deals should be across the board. The ability to order more discreet packages (yes, the programmers will have to join this effort… but "targeted" advertising dollars is the way of the future anyway. Just look at the Internet and get on board) should be part of the engineering of our systems and our offers.
If we do all these things now, when our customers are understandably fearful of their budgets—and we help them control that budget, even cut it back a little in exchange for a long-term commitment—we all win. Cable can now be an enabler rather than perceived as a problem. We don’t have to worry about Wall Street for the moment… it has already irrationally discounted us. The opportunity to create a happy, long-term customer base is a unique one, and we should seize it. It could potentially change, and significantly recalibrate the perception and reality of cable.