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Canadians' Silently Satisfied With Cable?

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 11 April 2000 00:00

Ever since Canadians rose up in anger over the cable industry's 1995 attempt to snag cable customers through negative billing, consumers have been leery of Canadian cable companies and vice versa. The annual public opinion research commissioned by the Canadian Cable Television Association (CCTA) and presented at the CCTA Conference last week was interpreted by their experts as evidence that Canadian cable subscribers are satisfied customers.

But is that the only reasonable interpretation or have customers stopped voicing dissatisfaction because it gets them no where? Have Canadian subscribers resigned themselves to pro-cable-industry protection by CRTC, the government regulatory body which has stifled real consumer innovation and satisfaction in the name of Canadian content? Perhaps, the CCTA survey reveals lowered consumer expectations not improved service?

Since most cable television viewing and cable Internet access takes place at home, the cable industry should focus on homeowners in a big way. Home-based business and working after retirement are important home-oriented trends and should be catered to by the cable industry. But is this industry committed to making Canadian homes into individual communication hubs, ideally suited to the needs of each distinct family or are they stuck on the old-fashioned mass marketing, homogenized approach?

The CCTA interpretation of their recent study states that 78 percent of subscribers are satisfied with the cable service they receive. However, with only 28 percent of this figure identified as "very satisfied" customers, the more significant number would seem to be the 72 percent of subscribers who are marginally satisfied or dissatisfied with their cable service. Does this overlooked room for improvement indicate an industry very satisfied with its own mediocrity?

"We know that most of our customers are satisfied as we never hear from them," said event moderator John H. Tory, President and CEO of Rogers Cable Inc., Canada's largest cable company.

Survey respondents who saw some service improvement attributed this change to the addition of new services like Internet access, not new channels. However, ironically, 64 percent of those surveyed said they would probably not subscribe to cable Internet access.

Ken Marshall, Senior Vice President, Cable Atlantic Inc., one of the experts asked to comment on the survey, said: "I don't think cable should get too smug. We have a built in perception that puts [cable] just above bankers in how consumers feel. It is still easy to make jokes about cable and get a quick laugh. The improved numbers may have to do with improved service but they also may have to do with not having shafted anyone lately."

Since the survey was done one month before cable companies began migrating programming over to digital television, the latter comment may be accurate. As digital television is rolled out, there will be service disruptions which may affect subscriber satisfaction levels.

Consumers want to pick and choose their channels and access programming from around the world. The cable industry will not meet this primary desire in the near future.

However, a new wireless cable competitor, Look TV, is offering "pick and pay" programming as well as pre-packaged channels. Will other cable competitors follow suit?

With more than 300 recent applications for new cable channels and digital television on its way, there is still a lot of change ahead for the cable industry and its subscribers. Will homeowners and home-based business owners benefit from the battle for Internet-access and television-viewing consumers? Stay tuned.

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PJ Wade

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