Philadelphia -- Following the celebration of its 100,000th
digital-cable subscriber here last month, Comcast Corp.'s Comcast Cable
Communications Inc. plans to keep digital rollouts as its primary focus this year,
according to its president, Steve Burke.
"That's not to say that we're not excited
about [high-speed-data service] Comcast@Home and, someday, telephony, but video is our No.
1 priority," Burke said.
Within the next two months, Comcast plans to launch
"Comcast Digital Cable" in 20 additional systems, following the 15 markets where
it already offers the service.
Three months from now, Burke predicted, Comcast will be
marketing digital to about two-thirds of its subscriber base. That number should rise to
85 percent by year-end, he added.
In March or April, Comcast will back Digital Cable with its
first aggressive marketing campaign. Burke said. TV spots will pass along the message,
"Our product is so great that it changes people's lives." The TV ads will
be tied closely to print ads, direct mail and even messages on the MSO's trucks.
Comcast began rolling out Digital Cable in earnest this
past August, but demand has outstripped supply of set-tops to date, Burke said. Shortening
professional installation time to an average of about 45 minutes has helped, as have
self-installation trials in some markets.
Each of the first 100,000 boxes were supplied by General
Instrument Corp., Burke said, adding that Scientific-Atlanta Inc. will provide set-tops
for eight of the next 20 rollouts.
Burke said it was important not to wait for
future-generation set-top boxes and services to accelerate the company's digital
"There are benefits to getting the competitive product
out there now," he added, pointing especially to fighting satellite competition.
Does Comcast have any worries about obsolescence?
Even if new boxes offer Internet access or
interactive-television features, Burke believes that there will still be a large
percentage of digital subscribers who only want to watch television.
Alternatives for swapping new and old boxes include moving
the old boxes to second rooms in the house or moving set-tops to homes that want only
Unlike some MSOs' digital services, Comcast Digital
Cable offers no additional basic channels. "Movies are what's driving digital
now," Burke said. "People love multiplex premiums and pay-per-view."
Chris Daukaus, a Philadelphia police officer and the
100,000th Comcast Digital Cable customer, told local press and dignitaries here
that he was pleased at how easy it is to get PPV movies.
Daukaus, his wife and their three sons were honored at a
halftime ceremony during a recent Philadelphia 76ers-New York Knicks National Basketball
Association game at the First Union Center.
The family is one of 30,000 Philadelphia-area Comcast
Digital Cable subscribers, according to Ed Pardini, vice president and general manager of
Comcast Cablevision of Philadelphia Inc.
Pardini predicted that the system would have 60,000 Digital
Cable customers by the end of the year, and Burke added that Philadelphia was probably
Comcast's best digital market on a per-capita basis.