Tips for taking a small company to the international market
from a senior consultant
Virtual Set Top Box savings and market opportunitities
History of CUO, CableData, and Amdocs
Movie video clips that I have used as a consultant to make points on improving or turning around a business http://lnkd.in/bUri4BF
About CUO, Inc. and Herb Lair
Founded in 1973 by Herb Lair, CUO developed the first in-house subscriber management and billing system for the then emerging cable television industry. International senior consultant for business development. I have worked at the executive level in telecommunications, financial services, retail, utilities, government, petroleum and natural gas industry.
With headquarters in Rancho Cordova, Calif., U.S. Computer Services (parent to CableData, CableData International, CUO Inc., CableLease and International Billing Services) is the largest supplier of subscriber management and statement production systems in the world, serving more than 33 million cable and direct-to-home subscribers worldwide.
Its CableData division commands 57 percent of the transaction management and billing market in the U.S. cable industry, providing operational support systems to 21 of the 25 largest multiple system operators in the U.S. cable industry.
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Article below --
Article written for CED Magazine May 1999 - predictions are spot on sites.google.com
Article below --
While cable operators and their subscriber management system (SMS) providers are busy battling the Y2K bug, the “stealth war”, for the subscribers’ eyeballs, is being won by the Internet. The Internet has added in excess of 50 million users over the past four years, something that radio took 38 years and even television 13 years to accomplish. The percentage of homes with PCs will be nearly as high as homes with cable by the year 2002, according to forecasts. Current surveys indicate people with Web access are spending as much time online as they do watching TV.
As convergence becomes a reality, the service providers who survive will be those who develop customer loyalty. Customer loyalty is a direct result of being able to measure customer preferences and then deliver customer satisfaction. The reality is that the Internet Web-site database managers are doing a much better job, managing customer expectations and building databases. Often providing gifts, even PC’s, for subscriber information. At risks: substantial advertising dollars, e-commerce sales and commissions, and subscription fee revenues. Couldn’t happen? Systems who focused on subscriber retention, without a concern for total subscriber revenues, are losing another quiet war with DirecTV. Systems sometimes keep their low-end basic cable tier business but lose their premium channel (HBO, Showtime, Cinemax) and pay-per-view revenue due to the DBS content selection and digital picture and sound. Potentially 50% of the systems revenue could be lost even with 100% subscriber retention. Customer preferences were underestimated and poorly measured and monitored. Because of inadequate subscriber preference data and a resulting slow response to digital technology, much revenue was lost and immeasurable damage was done to subscriber relations.
So why has cable become so ambivalent about managing and effectively gathering subscriber interests and responding to those needs? From the beginning, cable TV represented a “Field of Dreams,” in that cable operators would build a system and the subscribers immediately came—there was sufficient pent-up demand to attain high percentages of viewers from the homes passed. TV viewers in remote locations were watching snowy pictures and receiving no more than one or two distant stations. Reactive marketing has led to complacency and a false sense of security. Some industry observers may argue that cable operators simply had it too good. Others surmise that they just had to focus on the myriad number of operational issues that were, quite simply, more important at that particular time.
Early SMS solutions from 1948 through 1973 were highly manual in nature, with all work orders handwritten and payments posted over several days on ledger cards. Coupon books were commonly used and monthly bills were less than $5 during cable’s first 25 years. Other than over-the-air broadcasters, there was no competition for viewers.
For the next 10 years, 1973-1983, some automation crept into the subscriber management process, but it was nevertheless limited. The $100,000 minimal cost of an in-house computer with less capabilities then today’s $2,000 PC was far from practical. “Service bureaus” dominated, processing batches of data and mailing bills from remote locations. Data was keypunched and sent by couriers or over dialup modems. Outside competitors such as VCRs and satellite services were still in their infancy, but beginning to grow in importance. Signal scrambling for new PAY-TV services, provided via satellite in the mid and late seventies, created revenue opportunities for operators. However the SMS infrastructure for handling the addressable interface between the subscriber database and converter manager, ala carte billing, and marketing the new services was not ready. Reactive, not proactive management, cost revenue.
Serious needs for advanced SMS marketing, operations and financial database information have come about in the last 15 years. During the past five years, the unparalleled hyper-evolution of the PC industry and multimedia networks via the Internet has magnified the value of a cable customer with bandwidth. Pay-per-view, VOD, NVOD, pay TV packaging, digital, along with stricter customer service requirements, as well as keener competition from telephony, VCR, and satellite (DBS) providers. But SMS and customer database management continues to take a low priority in the food chain. In many systems, SMS is still viewed as a costly necessity and not as a cost savings or a way to generate revenue.
A cable MSO cannot allow its legacy SMS solution to restrict business growth. It must invest heavily in database management and marketing and be willing to make Internet technology their new best friend. They should remove immediately any thoughts that they are in a monopolistic industry. Competition from the Internet for the subscriber’s disposable income has no geographic limitation. Multimedia content on the net will improve rapidly over the next two to three years. Primitive forms of movies are being tested through sites such as ifilm.net. Broadcast.com, recently purchased by Yahoo for $5.7 Billion, broadcasts music and video events on the Internet. The swirl of activity illustrates “how quickly the Internet is changing from a text-and-graphics medium to a multimedia experience”—Eben Shapiro, staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal.
Even though marketing databases are not cheap, the value of a household has multiplied as the number of in-home offices and homes with multiple phone lines have exploded. Consider the recent prices paid for systems by AT&T, Paul Allen, and Comcast. Add in the number of subscribers with cellular phones, pagers and Internet access, and it’s easy to see the value attached to each home in recent system sales. Because households are becoming the equivalent of small enterprises, long-term success will require effective data warehousing and data mining.
Proper SMS strategy and direction are essential. One of the most innovative television products to flop was introduced in the late 1950s. The combination of TV, AM-FM radio and phonograph was an ill-conceived experiment in integration. It might have made for a nice piece of furniture, but unfortunately, the color TV was being rapidly improved and replaced every two years and the phonograph was evolving to 8-track tape (and later, to cassettes and CDs) and the radio, well it could last forever.
Then, modularity became the king. Similarly in the SMS arena, there have been several attempts to develop all-inclusive products that have never seen the light of day (e.g. Tele-Communications Inc.’s Summitrak, CSGS’ Phoenix project, etc.). Problems, as well as the expense, to integrate and coordinate computer code, technologies, and software releases to cover diverse businesses such as cable TV, telephony and data became prohibitive. Now convergent SMS providers must be willing to work with system integrators or function as integrators or enterprise resource planners (ERP) to provide total solutions built from modules. Bill Gates states in his new book – Business @ the Speed of Thought – “that as more standards evolve … the more likely the ‘best of breed’ tack will be used to buy independently the best product modules available instead of buying from just one vendor “.
Today, there are no silver bullets within legacy software. They all have the ability to handle the basic needs of cable operators, and have similar appearances. But as they evolve, SMS providers must provide visionary and innovative leadership. They have to be willing to kill their cash cows, if necessary. Given the new competitive environment, there’s too much at risk for the operators to maintain the status quo. They are no longer “just” entertainment providers, but technology providers. Must expand SMS vision and that will only come when they are willing to make substantial, proactive investments in the future. Emphasis must be on customer and process, not product.
The Internet must become the center of future SMS systems, not just an auxiliary tool. Substantial cost reductions will be realized by redirecting call center’s, billings, payment collections, as well as many CSR inquiry and service functions through the Internet. Enabling the same self-service that consumers have become accustomed to in banking, securities, and e-commerce products and services will be key. Giving virtually real-time control and monitoring of cable systems in remote locations, as well as foreign countries, via company Intranets will also be critical.
Can you imagine having the ability to enter a personal preference profile into an application so that the TV not only directs you to your preferred program, but also gives you pertinent advertising information on products and services of interest much like Amazon.com? Allowing consumers to provide input about upcoming programming schedules via e-mail or through an on-screen guide is an incredibly powerful tool that the Internet offers.
CUSTOMER PREFERENCES => CUSTOMER SATISFACTION => CUSTOMER LOYALTY
Online Web-based CSR functions could reduce costs by as much as 50 percent over the existing 800-number call centers and collection methods. Additional estimated savings for online bill presentation range from 20 cents to 50 cents per billing as paper; postage and processing are either eliminated or drastically reduced.
The revenue gold mine could come from the ability to substantially reduce the costs of direct marketing via mail and telemarketing by providing, for a price, the one-to-one retailing data gathered by knowing the buying habits and preferences of customers. This is another byproduct of transitioning to the digital era.
Legacy SMS cable providers must realize their value lies in their ability to translate their core competency into visionary solutions and then to make those visions reality.