As Cox Communications SVP of marketing Joe Rooney says, “it’s the marketer’s turn.” Cable operators have spent the staggering sum of $70 billion — give or take a few — to upgrade their networks and ensure that the big fat pipes going into customers’ homes can offer an array of technologically advanced — and lucrative — services. The upgrades, virtually complete for most big cable operators, occurred not a moment too soon. It’s a big competitive world out there, with DBS providers going for the jugular in the race to sign up new subscribers, and telcos, desperate to keep their own access lines, using DSL as a loss leader for customer retention. Of course, operators need to have the basics — video and great customer service, to name two. But in order to maintain or grow market share, they must relay a coherent, consistent, effective, show-’em-you-know-’em message. Cable marketing departments have never been busier. Not only are they trying to sell a host of new services, they must also differentiate themselves from competitors at the same time. That’s where the Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing comes in. Not only is marketing an art, it’s a science, as CTAM has subtly acknowledged in renaming its annual summit this year. Now that the federal government has finally instituted a national “Do Not Call” registry, telemarketing just became a little less desirable as a marketing tool. Some of marketing’s more scientific methods, such as using databases and segmentation for targeted marketing, may become more popular as a result. Scientific marketing methods are just one of five learning tracks at this year’s summit; the others include retention analysis, the art of customer care, creativity in promotions and advertising and how new tech gadgets will affect your marketing plans. The message from Char Beales, the association’s president and CEO, is that this year’s marketing summit, in Seattle from July 20 through the 23, is going to bigger, badder and better then ever. As an ace marketer, she would say nothing less. But judging by the lineup of keynoters, panel speakers, educational tracks and roundtables, it promises to follow the moniker of the kickoff day: Supersized. Lest the lovely Pacific Northwest setting isn’t enough of a lure, there’s always the entertainment. Making a special appearance at Sunday night’s TechTV-hosted opening party, at the Frank Gehry-designed and Paul Allen-funded Experience Music Project, is MatchBox Twenty, who’ll play for CTAM’s baby boomer crowd before jetting off to close their summer tour with five nights in Australia. It wouldn’t be a summit in Seattle without the presence of Microsoft. But since Bill Gates obliged to appear alongside cable’s heavy hitters at the opening session of the NCTA National Show, CTAM snagged the person charged with executing Gates’s strategy, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who’ll rouse all of us sleep-deprived bleary-eyed attendees Monday at 9 a.m. No doubt, the CTAM Summit focuses more on education than news. But since Robert Glaser, the chairman and CEO of RealNetworks, Microsoft’s archrival in the Web streaming game, will reprise Ballmer’s role Tuesday at 9 a.m., the two companies may be looking to one-up each other. There are no promises that these news makers will actually make news in Seattle, but stranger things have happened, like Michael Jackson showing up at a cable convention in Chicago. The summit’s general sessions promise more sparks. With several MSOs considering or already forcing emerging networks to prove themselves in the on-demand world before gaining the stature of a regular channel number, it seems that the dynamics of how MSOs decide what and how to carry programming is changing. On Tuesday, Beales moderates a panel on MSO programming decisions that includes Patrick Esser, EVP of Cox, and Michael Willner, vice chairman and CEO of Insight Communications. With more and more networks vying for valuable bandwidth that will take them to critical mass, this is a crucial issue for the industry. Rebranding is another big issue. In addition to Comcast, which undertook one of the biggest rebranding campaigns in the industry this year, several programmers and at least one operator have renamed themselves, are considering renaming or are in the midst of trying to rename and give themselves more modern brand images. It’s a little scary thinking of Game Show Network president and CEO Rich Cronin riffing on the network that had been trying to be known as the network formerly known as TNN, but got caught up for a while in a little court scuffle over renaming itself Spike TV. The summit’s closing brunch, all about rebranding and hosted by Cronin, promises some food for thought.

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