Ciciora’s Corner: Oshkosh

Mon, 09/16/2013 - 8:35pm
Walt S. Ciciora, Expert on cable and consumer electronics issues

Older folks are an important market segment    

As I write this, I have just returned from Oshkosh, Wisconsin and the big air industry show called AirVenture. Two things impressed me about this experience that have relevance to the cable industry: the age of the population and what that industry is doing about insuring a future for itself.

I have always wanted to fly in my own plane. I have had the time and the money to do it, but never both at the same time. Now that I likely do, I just may be too old to safely start (darn!). When my daughter lived with us briefly after college, I encouraged her to try. She got the bug. I now fly vicariously thru her and her two childrens’ flying adventures. She has been to the Oshkosh event several times, and this year I decided to go along. We had a great time. We were blessed with perfect weather and stayed at a nephew’s home nearby, enjoying a visit with family. We joined over five hundred thousand people and over ten thousand airplanes for a week of amazing sights.

Oshkosh is run by the Experimental Aircraft Association, (EAA). I knew that people built their own experimental airplanes, but I didn’t realize how many did. There are numerous kit planes for sale which facilitate the trade of “sweat equity” for dollars and a formal method of inspection and government approval to ensure safety. The safety record is impressive and makes driving a car seem dangerous in comparison. The EAA Museum is well worth a visit. It has an impressive, well organized collection of aircraft and other artifacts arranged in a manner to promote learning.

I commented to a friend at the show about the age of those attending. I was struck by how they were mostly older with a large number of young children in attendance. The middle age group was mostly missing. I was amazed by the number of times I heard children call out “grandpa”, but almost never “mom” or “dad”. Grandfathers were eager to share their flying passion with their children. And yes, Grandma was there, but in much smaller numbers.

My friend noted my comment about the age of the attendees and said that it is a matter of concern among the flying community. Flying has never been an inexpensive passion, but the other costs of modern life are squeezing it out of ordinary experience. It takes a strong desire to make the tradeoffs that give up other of life’s options to choose to allocate resources to flying.

From a cable industry perspective, these older folks are an important market segment.

Clearly, they are not afraid of technology and they do have resources. But they are careful about how they spend their money. They know how to measure value and how to allocate their spending accordingly. They form strong loyalties and stick with them. Winning them as customers and serving them well is a profitable endeavor.

I attended the Dayton HamVention earlier this year and noted a similar situation. The crowd of amateur radio enthusiasts was nearly all in the older age group. There were much fewer youngsters and essentially no middle age folks.

The EAA has identified the age problem and is doing something impressive about it. KidVenture is an extensive program to interest youngsters in flying that takes place during the Oshkosh show. I spent a day and a half with two of my grandchildren, ages eleven and nine, going through the program. They have two tracks, one on flying and the other on the mechanics of airplanes. Each station had several enthusiastic volunteers eager to share their passion with the potential future of aviation.

The focus of the mechanical track was on showing the kids that they too could build their own airplane. One station built a wooden rib for a wing section, gluing the prepared pieces on a fixture. Another station put pop rivets in an aluminum model of a home-built airplane. Other stations had airplane engines arranged to show the fundamentals of the four stroke cycle and a comparison with how a jet engine works.

Wind tunnels demonstrated the principles of flight and various wing cross sections. Propeller design and operation were demonstrated. Hydraulic brakes were featured at another stop. And, of course, basics of electrical systems were covered. The children had a check list and those who completed the whole program got to choose a real tool set. The seven stations take an average of five and a half hours. One of my grandchildren chose a small socket set and the other a screwdriver set.

The flying track was even more extensive and included a pre-flight inspection of an airplane, time on a flight simulator, radio communication, weather basics, and flight control from a simulated tower.

This track took even more time.

Two things to think about from this experience are how best to serve this significant market segment with cable and broadband services and what can we do to build enthusiasm for our industry in our youngsters.


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