NEW YORK -- Future of Cable Business Services -- Cable operators may well be winning a bigger share of the US business services sector, but they still have a lot of work to do to gain the trust of major enterprises and prove themselves as more than residential video service providers, a trio of cable executives said here today.
In the healthcare segment, in particular, trust is a key factor and being able to share customer recommendations and endorsements is critical, according to Jeff Greenberg, group VP for mid-market marketing at Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC). Given the growth in telemedicine and the industry's move to digitize patient records, healthcare represents a significant opportunity and is a key market for cable, he said, but there are still trust factors to resolve.
To overcome the perception hurdles, the Business unit at Mediacom Communications Corp. created a separate brand, separating the public view of its residential video and business segments required creating a separate brand, Gigabit+ Fiber Solutions, said Kristi Salmon, marketing director.
"People don't necessarily know what Mediacom Business does," she commented. "For healthcare, it is particularly delicate because of their sophisticated needs."
Cable companies are willing to adapt their traditional ways of doing business to meet those needs, providing greater redundancy and tighter service level agreements, and adding sales engineers and other capabilities for these VIP customers, Salmon commented.
For a market as significant as healthcare, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) Business Services conducts special sales training session to keep its personnel up-to-date on the latest in regulations and other requirements, said Alexandra Sewell, executive director, emerging markets. "It's important to build credibility and being able to talk the same language is part of that," she said.
Sewell said demand is growing so significantly that, at times, it's even hard to keep up.
"We are further along with product sets to support healthcare," she said. "But we aren't necessarily there from a product perspective" in terms of meeting customer expectations, especially with the proliferation of devices within the healthcare segment.
Being able to meet the changing needs of their customers is something in which cable operators are taking justifiable pride, as they continue to build market share in key verticals such as education, government and hospitality, as well as healthcare.
The hospitality market has gone from being dominated by video services to becoming a booming sector for data connectivity services, both Sewell and Greenberg noted. Internet connectivity is now the number one amenity for travelers and meeting that booming demand is making the hospitality market much more significant for cable. Comcast once served this sector from within its residential division but moved it over into the business unit more than two years ago and has seen steady growth ever since.
Greenberg admitted that industry verticals that have a national or international footprint aren't ideally served by cable, but added that the former issue could be resolved when (or if!) the TWC-Comcast merger goes through and essentially unites his company's New York and Los Angeles markets with Comcast's almost-national footprint for business services.
Mediacom is very much focused on bringing fiber-based business services to areas not served, including rural markets and even farmland, Salmon noted. The company is working on a pilot project with John Deere in Iowa that would use Mediacom's fiber network as the backhaul provider to tractors equipped with machine-to-machine connections that automate the planting process.
Selling business services in smaller municipalities now often starts with elected officials and business development personnel, as these communities look for gigabit connections for their anchor institutions and to attract and retain businesses as well, she said.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading