They’re almost sheepish about the boost in business, but cable television operators across the country say interest in Cable News Network’s round-the-clock coverage of the Persian Gulf War has paid off by attracting new subscribers.
“I’m quite ambivalent, have mixed feelings about this. We like getting new business, but I don’t like to get business because of a war situation,” said Bill Farmer, general manager of Capitol Cablevision Co. in Charleston,W.Va.
Capitol is one of several cable systems, in a spot-check by Associated Press, that reported an increase in calls for cable TV hookup in the wake of last week’s outbreak of war between Iraq and a U.S.-led coalition of nations.
“By one o’clock in the afternoon the day after the war started, we had 70 calls from new customers and about five calls from customers who had notified us they wished to disconnect but now didn’t want to do that,” said Romaine Pacheco, vice president for division affairs at Mile Hi Cablevision in Denver.
Those seeking a quick CNN hookup included residential, commercial and government customers.
“We got a panic call from the state Capitol . . . asking us to run cable to a number of offices so they could watch CNN,” said Ted Stuart, general manager of Heritage Cablevision in Des Moines, Iowa.
And the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange are looking into whether they can get CNN telecasts in their buildings after several traders there requested it.
The cable executives are in something of a bind, however, over promoting CNN. They don’t want to appear to be greedily cashing in on the war.
“Whenever we publicize what we have, 24-hour news is always a strong point,” said Larry Peterson, vice president of Cablevision of Savannah, Ga. “But we didn’t want to seem mercenary (last week), so we didn’t say, ‘Look what we have.’ ”
Nevertheless, any increase is good news for CNN. Subscriber fees, along with advertising, account for most of the network’s revenue. According to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, subscription revenues for CNN and its sister network Headline News came to $130.1 million in 1989, or 38.1% of the news division’s revenue.
CNN spokeswoman Kitsie Riggall said she had heard reports of more subscribers but said it would be several weeks before the network’s parent, Turner Broadcasting System Inc., can make an assessment.
Some cable systems said the war has not affected their subscriber lists.
“There’s not a noticeable, ‘gee-whiz’ upsurge. In our particular case, three out of four homes--or 72,000 customers--already have cable service,” said Neil Harwall, marketing manager of American Cablevision in Kansas City. “Our penetration being as good as it is, the increase is not so noticeable.”
Eric Kronen, vice president and general manager of Viacom Cablevision in Puget Sound, Wash., said that the challenge for the industry will be retaining the new viewers after the war is over.
“Certainly, it’s a good marketing thing we can go forward with,” he said. “We will probably take advantage of that, hopefully after this war situation has concluded.”