business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

A couple of weeks ago, we reported here about how some cable networks, such as HBO, seem to be looking for a way to disintermediate traditional cable companies (think Comcast, TimeWarner, Cablevision) by making their programs available online and a la carte.

At some level, this isn't surprising. After all, everybody hates the cable companies … and so if companies like HBO can find ways to disentangle themselves from these hated corporate entities, it probably makes sense. (Though, to be sure, this will be a long process….)

Now, however, the Washington Post has a story suggesting that at least one cable company is figuring out a response.

According to the story, Comcast is "launching a tool aimed at cutting down the time you waste waiting for their technicians. The firm is testing a new feature in its app that will notify customers when a technician is about 30 minutes away -- more precise than the broader two-hour service windows that Comcast offers now. And if the technician gets stuck in traffic or otherwise hung up, the app will provide real-time updates on his or her progress."

Of course, it isn't like Comcast is breaking all the rules … right now, the upgraded services is available to "a few hundred customers," with the possibility that it could be expanded. And this isn't the first time that it's tried to improve its service - in 2011, it reduced its waiting window from four hours to two. (Yikes.)

At the same time, the Wall Street Journal this morning has a story about how a number of new companies are being created with the specific mission of using "big data" to help traditional broadcast television networks find ways to "pinpoint viewers with much greater specificity than the traditional demographic categories of age and gender … As the rise of digital and mobile advertising threatens to yank ad dollars from the big cable companies and broadcasters, networks and marketers hope the new technologies will have the ability to leverage huge databases on what products consumers buy and which obscure shows they watch, making the television ad landscape more like the online one."

The story goes on to note that "the TV industry is far behind online services when it comes to ad-targeting. In the digital realm, marketers routinely place ads not just based on consumers’ age and sex, but also their geographical location, shopping habits and other bits of information logged as consumers traverse the Internet. That is one reason that spending on digital ads is expected to reach about $82 billion by 2018, eclipsing TV spending, according to eMarketer."

You can read more about these technology initiatives here.

But the broader and Eye-Opening message, I think, is that when companies are threatened with disintermediation - and a lot of companies are or will be facing this possibility - they have to examine their weaknesses ruthlessly and then do whatever they can as fast as they can to address those problems.
KC's View: