Bend Cable Communications Inc. recently discovered its own
local version of the telecommunications "killer app."
The Bend, Ore.-based independent operator used its Internet
and production capacities to trail the local high-school baseball team's tour of Japan.
The effort resulted in increased goodwill in the community
and an uptick in business for cable modems, as families signed up to speed downloads of
pictures of their kids' big adventure in Asia.
The independent operator serves a community just over the
mountains from the bigger communities of Eugene and Portland, Ore.
Since it is geographically cut off from those media
markets, "we've decided to become the major media," said W. Paul Morton, Bend
Cable's chief operating officer.
The system covers local news and school sports, so when the
Bend High School Lava Bears were invited on a 10-day playing tour of Japan, the sports
boosters approached the operator with a unique proposal.
They paid for the tickets for two production-crew members
to accompany the players on their trip. Bend Cable paid for the camera crew's food and
other expenses, which included the purchase of a digital camera once the group reached
Bend Cable has a Web site (www.bendcable.net) and a
locally originated daily morning show, so the crew could download stills and text to the
system for Web posts and news cablecasts.
The operator got a chance to prove just how narrow a
narrowcast could be. When one student, Mike Rundle, was hurt during a game, the crew took
pictures of him at a Tokyo hospital, and they were posted so that his parents could log on
and see that he had only suffered a split lip.
The operator did not try to do streaming video. Instead, it
posted daily updates on the trip with still digital photos. The video was hand-carried
back from Japan, and the system will cut the footage into 10 specials.
Bend Cable executives believe that this is the kind of
community involvement that will protect its customer base (20,000 subscribers, 74 percent
penetration) if competitors "ever come over the mountains," Morton said.
The gambit also helped the system to reach 4 percent
penetration on the Road Runner cable-modem service that it offers. Bend Cable has not
marketed the service, but during preparatory meetings for the Japan trip, Morton heard
modem users touting the service to other parents.
"This [project] certainly highlighted the benefits of
high-speed cable modems," Morton said, adding that there was only one downside to the
whole operation: "Two very tired production people."