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Pay-TV Customer Care Innovation Opportunity

It's no secret that poor cable TV service quality, coupled with a lack of personalized customer support, will combine to create real and lasting customer dissatisfaction.

These are the kind of flaws that inevitably steer subscribers toward other service providers. And at present, this scenario is translating into a major growth opportunity for telecom video services, according to a recent market study by ABI Research on the IP set-top box (STB) market.

"There is a real opportunity in North America -- and to a lesser extent, Europe -- for quadruple-play services," says Stan Schatt, vice president and research director. "We're starting to see more bundles of voice and data integration offerings, and we have seen promotional pricing to capture the market. But there is such discontent among CATV subscribers that telcos are able to move in and steal customers."

Verizon and AT&T are beginning to expand their homes passed as well, building out their network upgrades while continuing to work with their satellite TV service partners. ABI believes that interactive services could be a significant differentiator that will help them acquire subscribers in the battle against cable service operators.

"The interactive nature of the offerings that derive from telcos is proving to be a strategic advantage as we move toward IPTV offerings," Schatt added. "Interactive advertising may not be a force right now, but down the road it will be a way for operators to target specific homes with specific ads, and to let people respond to the ads. Once again, this requires two-way communication."

In the IP STB market study, ABI explains how telecom operators that offer true IPTV can provide services such as multiple camera angles, real-time voting, instant feedback, distance education, and integrated voice services -- thereby outshining cable TV providers and creating a technological advantage.

ABI believes that while telco services have been a sore point for many consumers, cable operators have managed to earn even lower ratings among their customers. Subscribers have felt captive within the longstanding municipal monopolies of the cable TV companies.

According to Schatt, it's not so much that the telcos have excellent customer relations, but that the CATV companies have terrible customer relations. And this has been observed by major players, including Verizon and AT&T.

That said, I believe that being "the lesser of two evils" is unlikely to be a key selling proposition for either an incumbent telco or cable TV operator within the U.S. market. In contrast, new market entrants could easily dethrone either incumbent service provider by making personalized customer care and customized technical support a key point of differentiation.

Most incumbent pay-TV service providers have value propositions that are conceived by legacy marketing executives who were schooled the the mass-market mindset -- a "one size fits all" service model is "good enough" for every customer. This thinking is clearly obsolete.

Moreover, the most common cable TV set-top box diagnostic routine leaves much to be desired. When we ask a cable subscriber to remove the electrical power plug, wait sixty seconds, and then reinsert the plug, does this present the impression of a sophisticated service provider? Enough said.

The pay-TV customer care innovation opportunity remains significant, is absent of a recognized strategic thought-leader, and is essentially an untapped market.

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