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Cable Technology Feature Article

February 24, 2012

Dish Tries to Create a Tangible Expression of its Service

By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor

Dish Network is trying to create more tangible expressions of its “intangible” service, a challenge a video service provider shares with many other providers of “virtual” goods.

“Going forward, we want our Dish products to be perceived more like the mobile phone industry, with names like the RAZR, the iPhone (News - Alert) and the Droid,” says Dish Network CEO Joe Clayton. So Dish is calling its latest digital video recorders the “Hopper” and the “Joey.”

The thinking is sound, though one might argue there are obstacles.

Some products, especially intangible products such as legal or health services, marketing advice, crisis management and other services, are very hard for buyers to evaluate, in advance of purchase. There is no physical object to inspect, so a potential buyer has to try and determine value some other way.

That's why credentials, furniture, street address, references and “experience” become proxies for value and competence where an intangible product is concerned.

Even tangible products such as fashion items or vacation resorts have a huge and similar problem, namely creating a brand or mystique that helps potential buyers evaluate the product, which either is a means to another end, or an “experience”.

Dish will face higher obstacles than the mobile service providers, though. You might argue that there already are products that provide a tangible expression of an intangible network service. The iPhone provides an obvious example for mobile service.

But there are other complications. It often is said of truly intangible products that they cannot be demonstrated. But the video subscription can be demonstrated. It’s just that what can be demonstrated as the programs and networks the service delivers, not the “Dish Network” subscription itself.

So you might argue that video subscriptions such as Dish Network provides already have tangible expressions. It is just that those expressions consist of the content buyers value.

In that sense, Dish faces the same problem a mobile service provider does. The tangible expression of the service is the device, not the service. The “thing” that has the end user
engagement is the mobile phone device, not the service.

There are other complexities for Dish, or any other TV services provider. One attribute of devices that have more personality or emotional attachment is that they are personal devices.

Mobile phones are personal devices. TV sets, decoders, DVRs, radios, fixed line telephones and routers generally are not “personal” products. Neither are refrigerators or microwaves.

It will be harder to brand a DVR product that is not “personal” in the same way as the mobile phone happens to be. Beyond that, one might argue that it is the TV that is the physical expression of a TV service.

That might suggest why a company such as Apple (News - Alert) might be uniquely positioned to better brand a non-personal device such as a TV, with an intangible service, in a way hard to replicate. 

Edited by Jennifer Russell

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