Comcast's Boston Makeover Touts HD, VOD

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Comcast Corp. continues its multimillion-dollar makeover of the former AT&T Broadband systems this week, but this phase of the campaign comprises more than just a name change.

The MSO's new promotional push in Boston and New England — affecting more than 2 million customers — comes with a twist: the introduction of high-definition television and video-on-demand.

As it did in California and Chicago earlier this month, the Philadelphia-based MSO will highlight the systems' change of moniker with a flood of cross-channel messages featuring Tour de France cycling champion Lance Armstrong.

In Boston, where the campaign is scheduled to break today (Feb. 24), additional cross-channel spots, direct mail and relationships with local and regional origination channels making the switch from AT&T Broadband to Comcast ownership will tout the availability of HDTV — five channels at first, with more to come later.

A second campaign, showcasing the "On Demand" service Comcast now proffers in Philadelphia — movies for $2.95 or $3.95 per play, and hundreds of other titles at no additional charge to digital-tier customers — will break in May or June, according to MSO executives.

About 1.5 million subscribers in the Boston area or elsewhere can add HDTV to their cable menu this week. Most of the rest of Comcast's new customer base in New England will be able to get HDTV by year-end.

The same strategy will apply for VOD when that becomes available, said regional senior vice president for New England Kevin Casey.

Cross-channel HDTV spots will run on most Comcast analog and digital channels, but they'll get more airings on New England Cable News, Fox Sports New England and Comcast (formerly AT&T) Cable 3, the Boston system's local origination service.

Cable 3, the region's local-origination channel, is also preparing an HDTV demonstration show.

"We have to use the venues we control," Casey said. "We'll also leverage the learning Comcast has accumulated in other markets with HDTV and VOD rollouts."

Because the MSO dedicates about one-third of its cross-channel avails in New England to promotions at fixed times each day, the new spots will have more of an impact, said Michael Doyle, president of the Comcast cable unit's Eastern division.

"We know a spot of ours will run at 7:56 p.m. on Lifetime or an hour later on E! every night," he said. "That helps get the word out."

Radio and spot TV schedules will supplement the campaign. For HDTV, the package consists of local ABC, NBC and PBS stations, as well as Home Box Office and Showtime.

As for VOD, a celebrity stunt may be used to galvanize local media attention at launch. In Philadelphia, Mr. T pulled a crowd to deliver a digital box to Comcast's first on-demand user last fall, while Joan Rivers demonstrated the service in central New Jersey a few weeks later.

"You can expect things similar to Philadelphia to develop in New England," Doyle said. "And that goes for the results."

After four months, for example, 48 percent of digital customers in the Philadelphia megacluster have used VOD, and 90 percent of that audience has used it more than once.

"After last week's snowstorm, where people were captive to both home and the weather, the usage might be much higher," Doyle quipped.

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