Cable operators strike accord for 12m push

The cable industry’s joint marketing initiative finally gets the green light

Peace has broken out in the cable industry. After months of conflict and negotiation cable operators serving 93 per cent of the UK’s cable homes have finally agreed a 12m marketing budget to launch a generic campaign.

Their aim is to market the benefits of cable – both TV, telephony and future interactive services – to a confused and ignorant UK consumer market. Yet some industry observers believe it may be too little, too late.

It is also dependent on being able to maintain the co-operation between individual operators working to different agendas.

Channel 5, the development of digital television and the possibility that a future Labour Government will remove restrictions on BT entering the market have proved powerful persuaders in the development of the generic campaign.

“There is undoubtedly confusion about cable TV, but with cable companies’ telephone service it’s more a matter of boosting awareness,” explains Mike Hayes, marketing director of the Cable Communications Association, which is championing the initiative. “The message will be: cable comprises many different benefits and strengths. It’s about added value.”

J Walter Thompson, which was appointed two months ago by the CCA to develop a marketing strategy, is preparing a campaign which will launch in the first half of next year.

The first stage is a national ad campaign and the creation of a generic identity by design consultancy Sampson Tyrrell. “The aim is to boost awareness of [cable’s] products to deliver an image to match the stature of the services on offer,” Hayes adds.

It is undoubtedly a major achievement that the cable industry has managed to work together and fund an all-industry initiative. Care will be taken to ensure national activity does not conflict with individual cable operators’ local campaigns.

After a number of joint initiatives to encourage the launch of cable-exclusive channels (such as Channel One and Live TV) the industry was divided over the decision by two of its own – Nynex and Telewest – to agree preferential rates with BSkyB to carry Sky channels on their systems in exchange for a promise not to compete directly by launching cable-only sports or rival fare. This deal was subsequently ruled “anti-competitive” by the Office of Fair Trading. Revised contracts are yet to be agreed.

Agreement on how to finance the campaign was only reached last week. The initiative has been widely welcomed by key players within the industry, who have high expectations for its success.

But the agreement on the approach is not unanimous. “It’s locking the stable door after the horse has bolted,” says one source. “Cable faces a wider problem than consumer ignorance: the imminent arrival of digital broadcasting. While the impact of digital remains unclear, one thing’s sure: it will make digging holes in roads look little short of primitive.”

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