National Show: David Watson

Apr 10, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Looking back on David Watson’s career, two things have remained constant: change and competition.

Whether it was in his previous life as a wireless company executive or today as executive VP of operations for cable giant Comcast, Mr. Watson is pretty familiar with doing business in industries that are rocked by constant change and that feature multiple competitors.

Perhaps that’s why Mr. Watson, the 2006 winner of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s Vanguard Award for Marketing, doesn’t seem worried about the pending arrival of deep-pocketed telephone companies such as AT&T and Verizon Communications, which are spending billions to upgrade their networks to offer video products.

“When I left wireless it was a fairly intense environment,” Mr. Watson recalled in an interview. “Decisions were made on a very frequent basis. You need to think very fluidly in a competitive environment and get out ahead of where the competition is.”

Mr. Watson, 47, whose responsibilities include marketing, sales and oversight of the company’s five operating divisions, appears to fully appreciate the firepower that the telephone companies-and satellite operators, for that matter-bring to the table. But he also knows that Comcast is not sitting idly by, letting the competition gain the upper hand.

“In cable we have this wonderful portfolio of products, and we can do things that the competition simply can’t match,” he said. “The key from our standpoint is to absolutely address competition, but it’s just as important to stick to our guns and give customers great value.”

That means Comcast tends to avoid the price wars that have been a major component of the telephone companies’ efforts to lure customers. While phone companies have repeatedly cut prices on their high-speed data product, Comcast has left its price largely unchanged, focusing on maintaining quality service and faster download speeds.

At the heart of the company’s strategy is Comcast’s so-called triple play package of video, high-speed data and telephone service. Though it moved more slowly than other cable operators in rolling out the service-mainly due to much-needed upgrades to systems acquired in 2002 from AT&T-Comcast is now moving quickly to roll out its phone product to all of its markets.

The cable operator is working to offer subscribers high-definition television service and digital video recorders. It is also bolstering its video-on-demand offering, having struck deals with CBS Corp. and NBC Universal to offer on-demand access to popular prime-time series such as “CSI” and “Law & Order: SVU.”

The next step was to craft a message that would lure customers to the new products. While it is an obvious move, the cable industry has struggled for years with its marketing efforts, thanks largely to operating as a quasi-monopoly in the pay TV space until a few years ago, when satellite cast itself as a lower-cost alternative to consumers fed up with rising cable rates.

Comcast’s solution was the “Comcastic” campaign launched last October, which offers tongue-in-cheek ads highlighting the array of advanced services the cable operator offers. In one ad, the older of two boys sitting on a porch recalls a time when he had to walk to the video store to rent a movie-highlighting Comcast customers’ ability today to access movies without leaving home.

“First, we needed to have great products that really resonated with consumers,” Mr. Watson said. “Then, operationally, you have to back what you are going to say, and you have to deliver good customer service. The third leg of this is then your communications. Once you have the products, and have the ability to back it up with great service, then you can cut through the clutter.”