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Part of the business of cable here at the Show is a discussion of ways to better serve, and better reach, customers.  The Association of Cable Communicators, an organization of communications and public affairs professionals, this morning hosted Publicity Play: Making an Impact in a Fragmented Media Age – a look at how cable operators and programmers are managing their brand, their promotions, and their customer service through blogs, social networks, and other new media.

Peter Kiley from C-Span moderated the panel which included Chelsye Burrows of Starz Entertainment, Ellen East of Time Warner, Annie Howell of the Discovery Channel’s Planet Green, Jennifer Khoury of Comcast, and Ellen Kroner of Rainbow Media

After brief introductions of the panelists and their company, the conversation turned to ways the companies are using digital media to do their jobs.  Ellen East shared an effort by Time Warner to have staff travel to the front lines and work customer service.  They blogged about the experience so co-workers could understand the challenges faced by both customers and the front line staff.  The blog proved very popular within the company and helped bring the corporate personnel closer to the people interacting with customers every day.

Jennifer Khoury talked about the Comcast Cares program and their use of Twitter and other platforms to monitor customer complaints wherever they popped up and to be proactive about solving them.

While these efforts help improve customer service, cable operators and programmers are also finding more challenges with new media in the marketing of their products, services and programming.  Chelsye Burrows discussed efforts to promote new Starz programming including Hollywood Residential and Head Case.  Extensive outreach was done with blogs covering TV and promotional content was created for the web to engage online audiences.

Similarly, When launching a new music on demand channel, Time Warner in Austin announced the launch events via Facebook and evite events in addition to traditional marketing channels.  They surveyed attendees and found that 46% came from one of the two online efforts – a huge success.  East expressed her belief that online channels were “the way to reach younger audiences”.

Conversation then turned to a discussion of traditional public relations and media relations, and the challenges presented by new media. 

Comcast’s Khoury believes the web has permanently altered the roll of communications personnel.  The media world has changed., she says.  Digital media is forcing changes in customer service, marketing, communications, reporting, deadlines, etc.  It is often a daunting task, she believes, but suggests “you try to work within the new structure and give people what they need.”

One of the most interesting highlights of the discussion was Annie Howell’s discussion of Planet Green’s new electronic press kit.  Not only has Planet Green stopped creating paper press materials and driven them all online, the press sites are developed using green design standards.  The colors are chosen for their lower wattage consumption and the sites use minimal images to draw less power.

The panel bounced back and forth between corporate branding, identity management and promotion of content with some discussion of the blurring line between corporate communications and marketing, but the predominant theme could be summed up by Bob Dylan – The times they are a-changin’.

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State and Local officialsThis morning, NCTA held a Town Hall meeting, entitled “Local & State Official Talk Telecommunication Policy.” There was discussion of broadband deployment, which local officials are increasingly focusing on. Virginia State Delegate Terry Kilgore addressed the challenges with deployment and adoption of broadband access in rural areas.  He pointed out that there is great difficulty in attracting a redundant broadband infrastructure without businesses driving the technology deployment. Pennsylvania State Rep. Curtis Thomas believes that what is needed is a path to adoption through public-private partnerships.  Communities should encourage companies to invest and restrain public policy that hampers such investment. Massachusetts Senator Michael Morrissey addressed the challenges of low population density.  For example, in areas of Massachusetts, there are great distances between homes, and wiring them together is expensive.  He believes that tax policy to encourage investment should be explored.

Florida State Representative Rene Garcia expressed the belief that local government is closest to the people.  Over the years, cable has been a good local partner investing in communities.  Therefore, state and federal efforts to move the authority away from local government will lead to less broadband deployment rather than more. Rhode Island Rep. Peter Kilmartin said that while government moves slowly, technology moves much faster.  Local authority should govern with a light touch, and not hamper an industry that moves so quickly.

Kyle McSlarrowNCTA’s President kicked off today’s first General Session with the annual report on the state of the industry.

His remarks, and the first in a series of ads rebutting the telephone industries attacks on cable, indicate it will be a very good, but very tough year as we face legislation at the national and local level.

McSlarrow spoke about the innovation, determination, and success of our industry and the fact that we are a great American success story that has only just begun.

You can read the entire speech here.

Comcast's David Cohen at Town Hall on Video FranchisingDavid Cohen, Executive Vice President of Comcast, hosted a town hall meeting on video franchising featuring experts on franchise issues from counties, state legislatures, utility commissions, and cities.  It was a lively discussion of a big issue facing our industry.

The cable industry supports fair franchise reform that expedites entry for new providers while establishing a level playing field for all competitors.  Whatever framework Congress chooses, it should allow the market to decide winners and losers by making sure all players have to follow the same rules.

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