Comcast Puts On a Show For Visiting Republicans

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Before they leave, delegates to the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in August will know the name of the big cable operator based in town.

They will be greeted by its employees, who will serve as hosts. They will have read the official delegate's guide, printed by the company. And they will have checked their e-mail in high-speed-data kiosks, placed in the convention center by Comcast Corp.

Comcast's support of the convention will run more than $1 million in cash and in-kind services.

The city's former mayor, Ed Rendell, recruited Comcast president Brian Roberts to join Philadelphia 2000, the nonprofit group that solicited the convention for the community. Comcast controls key ingredients the city needed to promote itself: the venue and the technology. Roberts now serves as one of five Republican convention co-chairs.

"People will recognize that we saw this as the right thing to do," executive vice president of marketing and customer service Dave Watson said of the long-term impact of the company's participation. "They will see Comcast is a new-wave leader, a significant player."

Yes, there are other corporate sponsors of the party's convention, and their trade names will have a presence. According to local news reports, AT & T Corp. and Verizon Communications will give at least $1 million apiece.

"But it's our building," Watson added. The Republican Party controls the signage inside the building, but Comcast executives will get the MSO's name out there in other ways, including signage outside of the First Union Center.

Comcast began working on its technical contributions as soon as Philadelphia got the nod as host city.

The company was lucky, Watson said, because the convention facility, the First Union Center, is a relatively new venue. Little work was needed to make it technologically state-of-the-art.

Connections were extended to the lobbies, where the aforementioned kiosks will be available to attendees. They will be able to experience, perhaps for the first time, the speed of cable modems.

A separate, temporary structure to house the media has been built in the parking lot between the new center and the old arena, the First Union Spectrum. Both the temporary facility and the Spectrum are linked for the convention.

About 120 Comcast technicians had to be issued credentials by the Secret Service for work in the building.

The company has already begun imprinting its identity on the consciousness of the delegates. It spent about $250,000 to print the official delegate and media guide-a glossy, full-color 100-page program. Its name is on the cover and the back, and the first 11 pages introduce the company and its officers and services. The guide was hand-delivered to key delegates in Washington, D.C.

Comcast will leverage all of its local strengths, including its regional news and talk channel, CN8: The Comcast Network.

The news operation will produce five hours of gavel-to-gavel convention coverage each night, recapped in a shorter version each morning. It's an ambitious plan for a local network that's only produced live nightly news for a few weeks.

The shows will feature three CN8 veterans, and the network has drafted some help-a host from one of its other divisions, QVC Inc., and two free-lancers with expertise in political coverage, vice president of original programming and creative services John Gorchow said.

Comcast systems in 20 states will carry the CN8 feed. Additionally, the major MSOs have been offered the feed, and they have committed to carry it, Gorchow said. CN8 is working out the technical details now and, if all MSOs fully distribute the feed, CN8 could reach 70 million cable homes.

To differentiate itself from coverage by other news and public-affairs networks, CN8 will try to find a way to "showcase our region" and illustrate the delegate experience, executives said.

Prognosticators are anticipating demonstrations and possible disruptions in the city, but they hope it does not escalate to the level of violence seen in Seattle during talks by world economic leaders. Gorchow said CN8's crew of 170 intends to focus "strictly on politics," but "we'll see what happens."

The MSO has solicited volunteers from within its ranks to work during the convention as hosts to the delegates. Watson said 250 people stepped up, enthused to work at an event not seen in their hometown since a national delegate convention in 1943.

Comcast has worked out a matching program: Volunteers will get time off later for the personal time they give up to work at the convention. Pat Croce, who runs the Comcast-owned Philadelphia 76ers National Basketball Association team, is heading the overall volunteer effort, with a 10,000-participant target number.

Despite the number of staffers supporting the convention and the increased traffic and hubbub near the site, executives do not anticipate any change or drop in normal cable activities in the area.

"There will be no real operational changes. We've seen conventions of similar raw numbers. We've not seen a big falloff in regular day-to-day activities," Watson noted.

The operator has also been upgrading hotels in the region in the course of its regular business. "When they are ready to open, we're right there," he added.

Does the company expect an uptick in orders from impressed delegates once they return home? "We'll never turn down an order," Watson laughed, "but what we want is for them to leave with a great impression."

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