Now that Silicon Valley cable customers are served by the
same company, AT&T Broadband & Internet Services will attempt to make the most of
its marketing dollars in those markets by unifying the region's cable-channel lineup.
Beginning Sept. 22, the former Tele-Communications Inc.
systems will begin shifting programming initially in Los Gatos, Milpitas and Saratoga.
Research has shown that television viewers identify
strongly with a service's channel number, and a single lineup will allow the operator
to use mass media to do tune-in advertising pointing the way to shows by channel number.
Further, research among area consumers showed that
consumers appreciate content packaged by category, according to a statement by Elaine
Barden, regional director of programming.
Off-airs will be clustered, with public access, The
California Channel, both C-SPAN networks and one pay-per-view channel in the lowest 28
Then, affinity channels will be grouped together. For
instance, FX, Turner Network Television, ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports Bay Area, TBS
Superstation and USA Network -- all of which carry sports -- are grouped together on
channels 36 through 42.
Channel unification is not unique. Operators in the Los
Angeles area attempted a regional lineup in the mid-1980s so a marketing consortium could
jointly buy regional broadcast-advertising time to promote satellite channels by number,
since most competitive media will not accept single-program tune-in ads.
But that effort failed due to differing business plans
among the many system owners at the time and consumer uproar. The Silicon Valley plan
should be easier because AT&T Broadband acquisitions have narrowed 11 system owners
down to one owner that controls 90 percent of the market.
But AT&T Broadband veterans also know that channel
changes can be a lightning rod for subscriber outcry. Some of these systems were among
those involved when the operator was scorched by viewers two years ago, when then-TCI
embarked on a plan to drop WGN in order to avoid high superstation payments, as well as a
handful of lesser-viewed networks in which TCI had no equity interest.
Consumer outcry caused restitution of networks in some
markets, such as Denver, after TCI gave local managers the right to respond to local
This time, the operator appears to be using a
carrot-and-stick approach. To make way for the unified lineup, the company announced that
it will drop Knowledge TV and America's Store. Spice, formerly available on the
analog tier, will be moved to digital channels 851 and 852.
Offsetting those losses, though, the systems will add
Travel Channel and TV Land to the expanded-basic package.
AT&T Broadband is advancing the changes by mailing new
lineup cards to consumers, and it will fund an educational advertising campaign.
Reaction so far has been positive, judging by local press
coverage. The area's largest daily, the San Jose Mercury News, termed the
change a "rest for the weary channel-surfer."
Eventually, 1 million cable households will be switched to
the new lineup.