It’s been a busy year for Bright House Networks’ Florida Group. Spanning some 160 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf Coast across the middle of the state — and reaching 1 million customers in Tampa and another 770,000 in the Central Florida division — the group not only accounts for some 80% of Bright House’s overall customer base, but serves as a de facto headquarters.
Formed last May, the Florida Group falls under the watch of John Rigsby, who has headed the division from a base in Orlando since 1995. Since becoming president a year ago, Rigsby has spent plenty of time constructing an executive management team and instituting new leadership at the division levels.
He was succeeded as Central Florida president by former Charter Communications Inc. senior vice president of operations Chris Fenger last August. That same month, Kevin Hyman took command in Tampa, following the retirement of veteran Jeff McQuinn.
As Rigsby was building the group team, Fenger and Hyman were filling in key personnel at the division level.
“Each division retains its entrepreneurial focus, running under the guidance of its president, and their heads for marketing, finance and other disciplines,” says Rigsby. “We want to keep the pulse on what’s happening in the field in both divisions.”
That’s a task made somewhat more difficult, given the group’s role as a quasi-headquarters. Engineering and technical applications come out of Syracuse, N.Y., under the direction of executive vice president of strategy and development Nomi Bergman. But the marketing, ad sales and public relations duties are handled from Florida to stay “closer to the market,” says Rigsby.
It’s been “a balancing act of how you layer entertainment offerings and economics … Chris Fenger, Kevin Hyman and myself are in contact with each other constantly,” he says.
Those meetings have already yielded synergies. For instance, Rigsby says that Tampa and Central Florida had different ad agencies with different interpretations of the brand, as well as varied pricing for products. Both are now uniform.
The two divisions also now share a common look and approach to cross-channel avails, and have combined their efforts to identify regional ad sales opportunities.
On the technological side, Rigsby says both units are implementing a common approach to video-on-demand architecture, based on hub clustering, which will lead to “favorites on-demand” basic-cable fare late this summer.
Currently, the divisions proffer films on-demand and sell subscription VOD packages from Home Box Office, Cinemax and Showtime at a flat rate, on top of digital packages.
Both divisions also supply the same lineups of Internet-service providers: America Online, Road Runner, EarthLink and local entry Inter Junction.
“A lot of data customers did not get video. The ISPs have opened the door to a lot of video customers for us,” says Rigsby.
Given Florida’s snowbird status, Bright House faces significant seasonal considerations — especially in Tampa, which has many more transient residents.
“We’re not going dark with advertising during seasonal flights; we’re keeping our GRPs up. We’ve done this in Central Florida,” he says. “And we’re doing it in Tampa now.”
Rigsby said the Orlando operation was one of the early believers in HD, which launched in fall 2000. Super Bowl XXXVI, telecast by CBS in January 2001, made it to a number of area homes.
“About 500 customers took the feed. The general manager of the station and I wrote a letter of thanks to all of them,” he says.
Today, Rigsby says the Florida group has about 79,000 HD subscribers, and customers have access to about 15 channels. Twelve HD channels are available in Tampa, where retransmission-consent wrangling continues. “We’re not there yet; it’s been difficult to get the rights,” he says.
Elsewhere, the divisions have rolled out digital video recorders, and “we’re getting ready to start rolling some HD DVR boxes into Tampa.”
Bright House has also been involved with home networking in Orlando over the past couple of years, according to Rigsby.
The combination of services makes Bright House’s package stickier overall — and girds it against increasing competition, which comes not only from national satellite providers but from overbuilds by Adelphia Communications Corp. in Central Florida, as well as from Knology, which competes with the Tampa division in Pinellas County. Verizon Communications Inc. and Bell South Corp. are also in the hunt.
Bundling aside, Bright House is taking aim against its adversaries via an enhanced emphasis on customer service. The Central Florida division recently named Bill Sievers vice president of customer care.
Bright House has long deployed a linked call center in Orlando that Rigsby says “brings subscribers to the person responsible and with the right skill set” to answer questions, handle problems or facilitate transactions. A similar system is being eyed for Tampa. “We’re sorting through vendors right now,” he says, adding that division could possibly retain a customer-care executive.
In either event, Rigsby said customer-service facilities would remain distinct for the two units. “Each division has enough critical mass, with various regions within the divisions.”