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Since there have only been 13 unassisted triple plays in the history of major league baseball, it's highly unlikely that we will see one in this World Series. Nevertheless, a lot of the talk recently has been about a different kind of triple play, consisting of voice, data and video services. Throw in wireless and you have the quad play. In an Interactive Local Media Advisory released yesterday, my colleague Michael Boland asked the question, "Triple and Quad Play: Who Will Win the Bundled Service Battle?"

Coincidentally, The Times of Trenton has a feature story today about how "Verizon is on the Verge of its $1 Billion TV Rollout" Verizon predicts that by the end of this year (yes, that's 2006) consumers in more than 100 New Jersey communities will have an alternative to cable television. My local cable company, the third owner of the Princeton franchise, has already sold me TV and Internet, and it would dearly like me to sign up for telephone as well. So it's a horse race between the cable companies and the telcos, and we have the marketing rule of two competing services.

This war is not likely to end up like the Beta vs. VHS, Netscape vs. Explorer or the Allies vs. the Axis. There won't be one final winner. However, from a technology perspective, this may be as close to WWIII as we're likely to see in the next 10 years. They can only fight on price for so long before they reach an equilibrium and that won't be the issue. They don't want to get into overpaying for content and find themselves in an unwinnable civil war like Sirius vs. XM.

So who's going to generate more revenues and profits? As Mike Boland points out, the tipping point may be the fourth leg of cellular. When you combine mobile search with online local search, he argues, "These will create exponentially greater opportunities to home in on consumers wherever they are using behavioral, contextual and geographically relevant targeting." Honestly, that sounds incredibly complicated, but what it will all come down to at the end of the day is service. There was a time, back in the Bell System days, when no one had better customer service than the telephone company. That was because every telco manager was held accountable for service, and careers were made or lost based on measurable results. Cable companies have never had customer service built in as part of their culture.

Assuming reasonably similar prices, content and quality, good old customer service could end up making the difference. But even if, as is likely, unique products and personalized features are developed by the cable and telephone giants to differentiate their products, expect customer service to play a major role.

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