The cable business has come of age, and the executives who met at the Okura Hotel in Amsterdam this week can rightfully be pleased with themselves. Julian Clover reports
Four years ago the Broadband TV News team met for breakfast in the Marriott Hotel, Prague. As we tucked into our croissants the statue of Saddam Hussein was being pulled from its Baghdad plinth. Our conversation was to lead to the publications you enjoy today, but it was the ECCA cable conference that had brought us to the Czech capital.
This week ECCA, now known as Cable Europe, held its conference in Amsterdam. Both the organisation and the Cable Congress have changed to reflect what is now a modern vibrant industry. There was even a rumour that Ready, Steady Cook’s Ainsley Harriott had taken over from Ray Snoddy as the conference moderation, but it turned out that Harriott’s duties were confined to the Gala Dinner, German journalist Wolfgang Blau acting as an excellent moderator for the conference.
While in most countries it has been broadband that has provided the day-to-day revenues it has been the support of the private equity investors that now control much of the European cable market. Unlike so many other sectors when private equity firms are often perceived as asset strippers in suits, those who have invested in cable are more than willing to inject the funds to upgrade the plant.
This has led not only to broadband, but finally given a much needed injection to digital cable services. As Manuel Cubero, president of the European Cable Communications Association, and a member of the management board at Kabel Deutschland noted the days when the other big countries in Europe were left behind by the UK are gone. Unfortunate then that there was no visible representation from the new Virgin Media, which was back in Britain launching its new brand, rather than talking with its peers.
Virgin’s perceived marketing savvy might have once been needed on the continent, but maybe not for much longer. Jozua Knol, head of marketing at Kabel Deutschland told delegates that the German operator had replaced pictures of set-top boxes and pieces of cable with stars and images from its channels. When he arrived at KDG, Knol was asked if he would like a nice length of cable to put on display in his office, he said that being in the entertainment business he would prefer a television set.
The same message came from UPC’s director of marketing communications, Europe Eric Forsthoefel. Last summer UPC Nederland replaced the static customer info channel that carried slow crawler messages to deliver information that could be found on the Internet in five seconds with a bright and breezy 20-minute loop. Four repeated sequences, delivering key messages about on demand services and premium channels have helped boost conversion rates and reduce call times.
All this may seem obvious to anyone used to the promotions that run on Sky in the UK. The trouble is that it wasn’t. I was reminded of an observation of former Casema managing director Henk de Goede, at a previous Cable Congress. He said that operators should concentrate on the pipe and leave the content to the channel providers. Private equity has changed the face of the European cable industry, and while song and dance men or even celebrity chefs do not run the business, it is entertainment.