Backtalk: Managing Local Change


The welcome letter from Cablevision Systems Corp. came oneday after the company officially inked its deal with Tele-Communications Inc. to acquireTCI of Westchester, which has been our cable operator for many years.

In one swell swoop, if you recall, Cablevision picked upmore than 830,000 customers in New Jersey and New York, making it the nation's motherof all clusters, now serving roughly 2.75 million homes.

Now, TCI has officially passed the baton, with the newowner announcing -- in a letter from Craig Watson, the new regional vice president, cableoperations for Westchester/Rockland counties, N.Y. -- that Cablevision would be offering"the very best in cable-television and advanced telecommunications services."

For me, the timing was a little ironic, because I actuallyfelt like I was going to miss TCI -- hardly a normal emotion for a cable subscriber.

See, just days before the Cablevision letter arrived, I hadplaced an SOS call to my system, which was still operating under the TCI flag.

I was calling with a devil of a problem. My husband --naturally -- was out of town, and I got home from work to find that the dog-sitter hadtotally disabled the 150-channel digital-cable service. She had monkeyed around with theremote control -- a very unforgiving device -- to the point where it was stuck on onechannel.

Now I could have watched on two other sets in the housethat are hooked up to cable, but I'm getting spoiled with the digital setup. No otherset would do that night, being home alone.

Not being able to lay my hands on the instructions, Iimpatiently layered onto the mess by pushing every button on that gizmo 10 times over. Theend result: I could not even manually turn on the now totally dead set.

The customer-service rep, whose name I unfortunately failedto ask, was great -- a total pro. Like an air-traffic controller bringing down a pilot indistress, she talked me through the intricate reprogramming of the remote.

If three red lights lit up, I was to program one number. Iffour red lights, another number. The sequence of red lights and different codes went onand on. But in a matter of 10 minutes, all of my digital channels were up and running,thanks to that unsung heroine.

Now, our system has a new owner that is already putting itsown stamp on the system, which will still be manned by TCI managers and employees, by andlarge.

Margaret Albergo, Cablevision's senior vice presidentof planning and performance, said teams from both TCI and Cablevision have been working onthe changeover for nine months, and the toughest work is ahead.

Much has already been done in terms of Cablevisionrebranding its new TCI properties. The on-air and the system's office signage haschanged. CSRs answer the phone with the new Cablevision moniker. Newspaper ads are in theworks. Trucks are being repainted, and new uniforms for installers are on their way.

But the most massive changes are on the horizon, with thebiggest challenge being the integration of the new properties into the mega-fiber ringthat Cablevision is building around its New York cluster to deliver an array of newservices, including residential telephony down the road.

Customers won't really notice a lot of the huzzah withthe fiber ring. But they may be shocked when they see what Cablevision finally does interms of marketing and pricing programming services.

Cablevision plans to offer its Optimum brand in the formerTCI systems pretty soon, according to Joe Azzara, Cablevision's senior vicepresident, cable operations.

What nobody from Cablevision would or could answer lastweek was what would happen to the recently rolled out digital service, except to say thatthe system would not be marketing it as heavily as TCI had just begun to do in December.

Somehow, I have the feeling that the digital service as Iknow it is a goner, especially now that I finally know how to reprogram the finicky remotecontrol.

Its disappearance will probably go mostly unnoticed exceptfor a few people, like our household. After all, I don't believe that all that manycustomers had signed up for it, given the limited marketing thrown at it -- and, now, nomarketing.

It was fun while it lasted.