Major cable players make a bid for EchoStar customers

LOS ANGELES: The recent fee dispute between Viacom and satellite TV-provider EchoStar led rival cable operators to seize the PR opportunity with a host of local and regional initiatives last week.

LOS ANGELES: The recent fee dispute between Viacom and satellite TV-provider EchoStar led rival cable operators to seize the PR opportunity with a host of local and regional initiatives last week.

For two days, EchoStar?s Dish Network blacked out Viacom-owned programming, including CBS, MTV, and Comedy Central, in a number of markets. Although the dispute was settled by Thursday morning, cable companies, whose industry faces its greatest challenge from satellite television, were able to make a play for some of the Dish?s frustrated customers.

In LA, four cable operators banded together to publicize special offers for customers who make the switch from satellite to cable. Though they?re usually competitors, Adelphia, Charter, Cox, and Time Warner put out a joint press release calling attention to a hotline that connects customers to their local cable company, from which they?d get priority installation status and an allowance to help them buy their way out of Dish contracts.

?A number of customers at every cable operator are already responding to media reports and the published phone number,? said Bob Gold, president of Bob Gold & Associates, California AOR for Adelphia, in an interview last week during the channel blackout. ?I?ve already got names of customers who are willing to talk to the media about what their experience has been and why they?re doing it.?

Gold said that one of his PR challenges was convincing local reporters to cover an issue that already was receiving a lot of national attention.

?They say, ?We?ll take the wire story; we?re not going to address this locally,?? he said. ?In our opinion, this is very much a local issue, and it ought to be addressed on a local basis.?

The communications strategy on this issue was not dictated from the corporate level, which might be seen as befitting an industry whose biggest players started as local businesses.

?Specific marketing messages and tactics are being developed at the local and divisional level,? said Keith Cocozza, a Time Warner Cable spokesman. ?They depend on the satellite penetration, what the current marketing tactics are, and it?ll depend on future marketing and win-back plans.?

But for all the local planning, the effort was part of an industrywide business strategy.

?The operators are in a place where they feel that winning back satellite customers is a mandate,? Gold said. The dispute offered ?a really meaningful opportunity for operators to speak to. What?s really dynamic is that in Los Angeles and in other markets, they are counting on public relations to be a significant driver of the message above and beyond what advertising can deliver.?

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