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At CES, Cablers Rave Over HD

1/12/2003 7:00 PM Eastern

Las Vegas— The cable industry will extend CableLabs's Go2Broadband initiative to high-definition television services, top executives said at the International Consumer Electronics Show here last week.

Comcast Corp., Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable all committed to field trials in first quarter 2003 using Cable Television Laboratories Inc.'s Go2Broadband Web site, which steers potential customers to broadband providers. In the test, the site will help local retailers to guide consumers to cable's HDTV offerings.

"We think HDTV is a huge winner in the years ahead," said Comcast president Brian Roberts, chairman of the CableLabs board.

Roberts said there are 2,000 retail outlets in Comcast markets that sell cable modems, and "we'd like to replicate that model with HDTV."

In an early retail test in Philadelphia, "we've had a good experience with consumers buying cable with their HDTV set," said Roberts.

Las Vegas will be Cox's Go2Broadband test bed, said CEO Jim Robbins.

HDTV is available in seven Cox markets, covering 20 percent of the MSO's subscriber base, said Robbins. It will reach 80 percent by year-end, he said.

"We are generating revenue today from HDTV," Robbins said, adding that HDTV was generating positive cash flow.

Time Warner president Glenn Britt said his MSO has deployed 76,000 HDTV set-tops, with HDTV content at no extra charge above the monthly digital set-top fee.

"HDTV is a great retention tool," he said. Britt added that TWC conducted a joint promotion with a retailer in San Antonio and that the test "was going very well."

The industry's heightened interest in the CE world was underscored by the number of top-level cable executives at CES, who also included Cablevision Systems Corp. chairman Charles Dolan, Insight Communications Co. CEO Michael Willner and Advance/Newhouse president Robert Miron.

Cable executives believe it's crucial to increase their retail presence in the face of competition from direct broadcast satellite, which has taken advantage of its retail presence to sell digital video recording and HDTV set-tops to consumers. The plug-and-play compatibility signed by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and the Consumer Electronics Association last month only intensifies the relationship between the two groups.

Industry sources predict TV sets with built-in cable tuners and conditional-access capabilities will be available by Christmas 2003.

Cable operators at CES were both paying homage to the CE crowd and working on the next steps to expand their retail presence to video.

"This is a great changing time," Roberts said. "It's a watershed change. Every MSO is here."

Added Britt: "We have to engage the retail and CE industry. It will make our business better and more competitive."

Cable executives' turnout was to the degree that Roberts joked that CES was generating better attendance than some NCTA events. NCTA CEO Robert Sachs retorted that he was duly noting the faces of those cable executives in attendance, and said he expects them all in Chicago in June at the National Show.

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