Commentary By Steve Effros The Consumer Electronics Show last week reinforced what we all know: the video delivery business is fiercely competitive. That competition and the introduction of new services and technologies are creating a major problem for consumers. Helping those consumers negotiate the new terrain is going to be a significant factor in winning their allegiance. "Allegiance" is the right word, since they have never really seen or understood the distinction between the competing technologies. All that a television viewer wants to do is watch television. They don’t really care if that television arrives over-the-air, via cable, or from a satellite. They just want an easy-to-use "television" that they can watch and access the programming they want to see. In a broad sense, the "digital transition" is in the process of eliminating any distinction in the viewer’s eye. A properly received and hooked up DTV, digital cable, or digital satellite signal looks, in essence, the same. So how does the cable industry win the allegiance of our customer? How, in other words, do we "get sticky?" I think the answer to that question goes directly back to the fundamental one: what do consumers want? I don’t think there is any question about that. The average consumer wants television service that is easy to use. All other things being relatively equal, that is, we are all delivering a quality, digital signal, and we are all delivering roughly the same package of programming, (advanced VOD is another issue) then the consumer wants to be able to choose and use that programming as easily as possible. Note that I am not talking about the variables of "bundles," telephony, data, etc., which are clearly important additional arrows in cable’s quiver. For now I am only talking about video delivery. The CES Show, and all the articles it generated, has once again highlighted the increasing confusion over HD television sets, digital video recorders, DVD recording, program navigation and the like. Let’s leave aside the "new" stuff like "portable" video. I have my doubts about that one. But there is no doubt that average folks are getting frustrated by the bombardment of new equipment, capabilities, and potential incompatibility of the "stuff" they are being told they need to buy as part of the digital transition. Whoever helps them the most when it comes to simplifying all this is going to be the winner. I still say one of the keys is going to be both a good program navigation guide and a good remote control. The last time I wrote about remotes was almost two years ago. I said the "winner" of my long-time search for the "right" one was the Universal Remote Control MX700. I still think so. As John Davis of URC has said, the remote is no longer an accessory; it’s a component of the system. He’s right. If customers get totally frustrated trying to turn on the cable box, the TV, the "home theater" sound rig, along with a separate DVR, DVD, etc., they will look for something or someone to make it easy. A good remote (I’m sure there are others, mine can easily be programmed using a computer, based on whatever equipment the customer has) can do that. Just handing a "universal" remote to your customer and saying "good luck" isn’t good enough. This is a quintessential issue of "customer service." I have gotten too many calls and notes from folks saying they can’t even figure out how to turn on their sets these days. If we help them, we can’t get more "sticky!"